NASA IS PREPARING to launch a new unmanned mission to Mars which will test the planet’s soil for signs of microbiotic life.
The space agency intends to land a wheeled rover named Curiosity onto the planet’s surface using a crane and parachutes for a precision landing.
The Martian landing is just one half of a two-part project by Nasa’s Mars Science Laboratory aiming to establish if it supports, or ever did support, life. The other mission involves orbiting the planet and dipping into its upper atmosphere to try and establish what led to the loss of Martian water in space, making the planet increasingly inhospitable.
That mission is is scheduled to launch in 2013.
Earlier this year, Nasa released this animation depicting the Curiosity’s journey and work:
The spacecraft carrying the rover was due to lift-off today, but is now set to launch tomorrow at 3.02pm Irish time (or 10.02am EST) and will take over eight months to travel to Mars. The delayed launch was to allow time for the replacement of a flight termination system battery.
The Curiosity will be loaded with ten scientific instruments and a laser to search for evidence of conditions favourable to microbial life, according to Nasa.
An earlier Nasa mission to Mars – when the Opportunity rover landed there in 2004 – captured this incredible high-def footage of the Martian surface:
Chairman of Astronomy Ireland David Moore described the Curiosity mission as “a really exciting project that we hope will give us clues to whether or not life has ever existed on Mars.”
He said that although dried-up lakes, rivers and seas can be seen on the Martian surface, “was this water enough to support life?”