Feeds

NASA's nuclear laser tank will hunt down any life on Mars

Seriously though: How excellent if there was some

Choosing a cloud hosting partner with confidence

While tales of UFOs and alien abductions are still being greeted with snorts of derision, NASA really is searching the skies for signs of extraterrestrial life, though it's not little green (or grey) men the agency is looking for, it's signs of life - most probably not above the microbial level - on Mars.

The Red Planet has been an enticing option for life outside of this planet for both scientists and popular culture. Its proximity and similarity to Earth has led to all sorts of speculations, from Marvin the Martian to the famous 'Face on Mars' photo taken by the Viking 1 orbiter in 1976.

Now, the American space agency is sending its biggest and best Mars rover to try to discover if there was, is, or could be the potential for microbial life on the planet.

The Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) mission will carry Curiosity, a rover five times as large as, and carrying 10 times more scientific instruments than, the previous Mars rovers Spirit or Opportunity.

The space truck is the size of a small SUV, has its very own fancy propulsive launcher to land it on the planet and carries cameras, a robotic arm, a drill and a laser capable of vaporising rock.

In fact, there's so much gear on the rover that it can't be powered by solar panels, oh no, it needs a plutonium-powered 'space battery' to run all its gizmos and gadgets.

NASA is launching the MSL on an Atlas V booster on November 26, a day later than originally intended, but Curiosity won't reach the surface of Mars until sometime in August next year after a journey of around 354 million miles.

On arrival at Mars the complex "aeroshell" - the round space tin in which the rover and its rocket-skycrane landercraft are packaged - will make a screaming entry into the thin atmosphere of the red planet, during which it will scrub off velocity using "S-curve" manoeuvres much as space shuttles used to do when plunging down through Earth's atmosphere. The aeroshell will slow itself further in the final minutes using a parachute, then release the rover and its "upper stage" lander, a sort of flying rocket bedstead which will use retro thrust to bring itself down to a hover above the surface and lower the rover down on cables in "sky crane" mode the last few metres. Lines detached, the sky-crane upper stage will then use the last of its fuel to take itself off somewhere and crash safely away from Curiosity's landing point.

Secure remote control for conventional and virtual desktops

More from The Register

next story
GRAV WAVE DRAMA: 'Big Bang echo' may have been grit on the scanner – boffins
Exit Planet Dust on faster-than-light expansion of universe
Mine Bitcoins with PENCIL and PAPER
Forget Sudoku, crunch SHA-256 algos
SpaceX Dragon cargo truck flies 3D printer to ISS: Clawdown in 3, 2...
Craft berths at space station with supplies, experiments, toys
NASA rover Curiosity drills HOLE in MARS 'GOLF COURSE'
Joins 'traffic light' and perfect stony sphere on the Red Planet
'This BITE MARK is a SMOKING GUN': Boffins probe ancient assault
Tooth embedded in thigh bone may tell who pulled the trigger
DOLPHINS SMELL MAGNETS – did we hear that right, boffins?
Xavier's School for Gifted Magnetotaceans
Big dinosaur wowed females with its ENORMOUS HOOTER
That's right, Doris, I've got biggest snout in the prehistoric world
Japanese volcano eruption reportedly leaves 31 people presumed dead
Hopes fade of finding survivors on Mount Ontake
That glass of water you just drank? It was OLDER than the SUN
One MEELLION years older. Some of it anyway
prev story

Whitepapers

Forging a new future with identity relationship management
Learn about ForgeRock's next generation IRM platform and how it is designed to empower CEOS's and enterprises to engage with consumers.
Storage capacity and performance optimization at Mizuno USA
Mizuno USA turn to Tegile storage technology to solve both their SAN and backup issues.
The next step in data security
With recent increased privacy concerns and computers becoming more powerful, the chance of hackers being able to crack smaller-sized RSA keys increases.
Security for virtualized datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.
A strategic approach to identity relationship management
ForgeRock commissioned Forrester to evaluate companies’ IAM practices and requirements when it comes to customer-facing scenarios versus employee-facing ones.