Flawlessly On Course Curiosity Cruising to Mars – No Burn Needed Now

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Curiosity’s interplanetary injection was spot on ! – following her Nov. 26 blastoff aboard the 2 million pound thrust Atlas V booster from Cape Canaveral in Florida.

For a birds-eye view of where it all started, watch the cool close-up launch video, below taken from within the Atlas pad security fence.

Indeed the launch precision was so good that mission controllers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab in Pasadsena, Calif., have announced they postponed the first of six planned course correction burns for the agency’s newest Mars rover by at least a month. The firing had been planned for some two weeks after liftoff.

Curiosity is merrily sailing on a 254 day and 352-million-mile (567-million-kilometer) interplanetary flight from the Earth to Mars that will culminate on August 6, 2012 with a dramatic first-of-its-kind precision rocket powered touchdown inside Gale Crater.

“This was among the most accurate interplanetary injections ever,” said Louis D’Amario of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif. He is the mission design and navigation manager for the Mars Science Laboratory.

Video Caption: View from inside the Pad 41 Security Fence at Cape Canaveral. Shot by a Canon 7D still camera during the launch of the Atlas V rocket carrying the MSL Curiosity rover to Mars. Thanks to a sound trigger my camera started firing at three frames per second from just after main engine ignition up until the exhaust plume finally envelops the camera and deadens all sound around it. The frames have been slowed down quite a bit for dramatic effect. Enjoy seeing what it is like for us media personnel who set out our remote cameras for launches at Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral, Florida. Credit: Chase Clark/shuttlephotos.com

As of midday Friday, Dec. 2, the spacecraft had already traveled 10.8 million miles (17.3 million kilometers) and is moving at 7,500 mph (12,000 kilometers per hour) relative to Earth and at 73,800 mph (118,700 kilometers per hour) relative to the sun.

An interesting fact is that engineers deliberately planned the spacecraft’s initial trajectory to miss Mars by about 35,000 miles (56,400 kilometers) so that the Centaur upper stage does not hit Mars by accident. Both Centaur and Curiosity are currently following the same trajectory through the vast void of space and the actual trajectory puts them on course to miss Mars by about 38,000 miles (61,200 kilometers).

The Centaur has not been thoroughly cleaned of earthly microbes in the same way as Curiosity – and therefore cannot be permitted to impact the Martian surface and potentially contaminate the very studies Curiosity seeks to carry out in searching for the “Signs of Life”.

For the 8.5 month voyage to Mars, Curiosity and the rocket powered descent stage are tucked inside an aeroshell and are attached to the huge solar powered cruise stage.

Deceleration of Mars Science Laboratory in Martian Atmosphere
Artist's Concept depicts the interaction of NASA's Mars Science Laboratory spacecraft with the upper atmosphere of Mars during the entry, descent and landing (EDL) of the Curiosity rover onto the Martian surface. EDL begins when the spacecraft reaches the top of Martian atmosphere, about 81 miles (131 kilometers) above the surface of the Gale crater landing area, and ends with the rover safe and sound on the surface of Mars some 7 minutes later. During EDL, the spacecraft decelerates from a velocity of about 13,200 miles per hour (5,900 meters per second) at the top of the atmosphere, to stationary on the surface. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

The cruise stage is rotating at 2.05 rounds per minutes and is continuously generating electric power – currently about 800 watts – from the gleaming solar arrays. It also houses eight miniature hydrazine fueled thrusters. The propellant is stored inside titanium tanks.

Atlas V rocket and Curiosity Mars rover poised at Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral, Florida prior to Nov. 26, 2011 liftoff. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

The historic voyage of the largest and most sophisticated Martian rover ever built by humans seeks to determine if Mars ever offered conditions favorable for the genesis of microbial life.

Curiosity is packed to the gills with 10 state of the art science instruments that are seeking to detect the signs of life in the form of organic molecules – the carbon based building blocks of life as we know it.

The car sized robot is equipped with a drill and scoop at the end of its 7 ft long robotic arm to gather soil and powdered samples of rock interiors, then sieve and parcel out these samples into two distinct analytical laboratory instruments inside the rover.

Complete Coverage of Curiosity – NASA’s Next Mars Rover launched 26 Nov. 2011
Read continuing features about Curiosity by Ken Kremer starting here:
NASA Planetary Science Trio Honored as ‘Best of What’s New’ in 2011- Curiosity/Dawn/MESSENGER
Curiosity Mars Rover Launch Gallery – Photos and Videos
Curiosity Majestically Blasts off on ‘Mars Trek’ to ascertain ‘Are We Alone?
Mars Trek – Curiosity Poised to Search for Signs of Life
Curiosity Rover ‘Locked and Loaded’ for Quantum Leap in Pursuit of Martian Microbial Life
Science Rich Gale Crater and NASA’s Curiosity Mars Rover in Glorious 3-D – Touchdown in a Habitable Zone
Curiosity Powered Up for Martian Voyage on Nov. 26 – Exclusive Message from Chief Engineer Rob Manning
NASA’s Curiosity Set to Search for Signs of Martian Life
Curiosity Rover Bolted to Atlas Rocket – In Search of Martian Microbial Habitats
Closing the Clamshell on a Martian Curiosity
Curiosity Buttoned Up for Martian Voyage in Search of Life’s Ingredients
Assembling Curiosity’s Rocket to Mars
Encapsulating Curiosity for Martian Flight Test
Dramatic New NASA Animation Depicts Next Mars Rover in Action

Curiosity Mars Rover Launch Gallery – Photos and Videos

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NASA’s Curiosity Mars Science Lab (MSL) rover is speeding away from Earth on a 352-million-mile (567-million-kilometer) journey to Mars following a gorgeous liftoff from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida aboard a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket at 10:02 a.m. EST on Nov. 26.

Enjoy the gallery of Curiosity launch images collected here from the Universe Today team and local photographers as well as NASA and United Launch Alliance.

The historic voyage of the largest and most sophisticated Martian rover ever built by humans seeks to determine if Mars ever offered conditions favorable for the genesis of microbial life.

Curiosity Mars Science Laboratory rover soars to Mars atop an Atlas V rocket on Nov. 26 at 10:02 a.m. EST from Cape Canaveral, Florida. Credit: Ken Kremer

“We are very excited about sending the world’s most advanced scientific laboratory to Mars,” NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said. “MSL will tell us critical things we need to know about Mars, and while it advances science, we’ll be working on the capabilities for a human mission to the Red Planet and to other destinations where we’ve never been.”

The mission will pioneer a first of its kind precision landing technology and a sky- crane touchdown to deliver the car sized rover to the foothills of a towering and layered mountain inside Gale Crater on Aug. 6, 2012.

Curiosity Mars rover launch. Credit: Mike Deep/David Gonzales

Curiosity is packed to the gills with 10 state of the art science instruments that are seeking the signs of life in the form of organic molecules – the carbon based building blocks of life as we know it.

Curiosity Mars rover launch. Credit: Mike Deep/David Gonzales

The robot is equipped with a drill and scoop at the end of its robotic arm to gather soil and powdered samples of rock interiors, then sieve and parcel out these samples into analytical laboratory instruments inside the rover.

The 1 ton Curiosity rover sports a science payload that’s 15 times heavier than NASA’s previous set of rovers – Spirit and Opportunity – which landed on Mars in 2004. Some of the tools are the first of their kind on Mars, such as a laser-firing instrument for checking the elemental composition of rocks from a distance, and an X-ray diffraction instrument for definitive identification of minerals in powdered samples.

Curiosity rover bound for Mars punches through Florida clouds. Credit: Ken Kremer
Curiosity rover launches to Mars on Atlas V rocket on Nov. 26 from Cape Canaveral, Florida. Credit: Mike Killian/Zero-G News
Curiosity rover launches to Mars on Atlas V rocket on Nov. 26 from Cape Canaveral, Florida. Credit: Mike Killian/Zero-G News
A United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket blasts off from Space Launch Complex-41 at 10:02 p.m. EST with NASA’s Mars Science Lab rover Curiosity. Credit: Pat Corkery/ULA
Credit: NASA/KenThornsley
Curiosity Mars Science Laboratory launches. Credit: ULA


Launch Video – Credit: Matthew Travis/Spacearium

MSL launch. Credit: Julian Leek
MSL launch. Credit: Julian Leek

Complete Coverage of Curiosity – NASA’s Next Mars Rover launched 26 Nov. 2011
Read continuing features about Curiosity by Ken Kremer starting here:

Curiosity Majestically Blasts off on ‘Mars Trek’ to ascertain ‘Are We Alone?
Mars Trek – Curiosity Poised to Search for Signs of Life
Curiosity Rover ‘Locked and Loaded’ for Quantum Leap in Pursuit of Martian Microbial Life
Science Rich Gale Crater and NASA’s Curiosity Mars Rover in Glorious 3-D – Touchdown in a Habitable Zone
Curiosity Powered Up for Martian Voyage on Nov. 26 – Exclusive Message from Chief Engineer Rob Manning
NASA’s Curiosity Set to Search for Signs of Martian Life
Curiosity Rover Bolted to Atlas Rocket – In Search of Martian Microbial Habitats
Closing the Clamshell on a Martian Curiosity
Curiosity Buttoned Up for Martian Voyage in Search of Life’s Ingredients
Assembling Curiosity’s Rocket to Mars
Encapsulating Curiosity for Martian Flight Test
Dramatic New NASA Animation Depicts Next Mars Rover in Action
Packing a Mars Rover for the Trip to Florida; Time Lapse Video
Test Roving NASA’s Curiosity on Earth

Curiosity Majestically Blasts off on ‘Mars Trek’ to ascertain ‘Are We Alone?’

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Atop a towering inferno of sparkling flames and billowing ash, Humankinds millennial long quest to ascertain “Are We Alone ?” soared skywards today (Nov. 26) with a sophisticated spaceship named ‘Curiosity’ – NASA’s newest, biggest and most up to date robotic surveyor that’s specifically tasked to hunt for the ‘Ingredients of Life’ on Mars, the most ‘Earth-like’ planet in our Solar System.

‘Mars Trek – Curiosity’s Search for Undiscovered Life’ zoomed to the heavens with today’s (Nov. 26) pulse pounding blastoff of NASA’s huge Curiosity Mars rover mounted atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket at 10:02 a.m. EST from Space Launch Complex 41 on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

Curiosity Mars Science Laboratory MSL) rover blasts off for Mars atop an Atlas V rocket on Nov. 26 at 10:02 a.m. EST from Cape Canaveral, Florida. Credit: Ken Kremer

Curiosity’s noble goal is to meticulously gather and sift through samples of Martian soil and rocks in pursuit of the tell-tale signatures of life in the form of organic molecules – the carbon based building blocks of life as we know it – as well as clays and sulfate minerals that may preserve evidence of habitats and environments that could support the genesis of Martian microbial life forms, past or present.

The Atlas V booster carrying Curiosity to the Red Planet vaulted off the launch pad on 2 million pounds of thrust and put on a spectacular sky show for the throngs of spectators who journeyed to the Kennedy Space Center from across the globe, crowded around the Florida Space Coast’s beaches, waterways and roadways and came to witness firsthand the liftoff of the $2.5 Billion Curiosity Mars Science Lab (MSL) rover.

Curiosity Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) rover blasts off for Mars atop an Atlas V rocket on Nov. 26 at 10:02 a.m. EST from Cape Canaveral, Florida. The car-sized rover, Curiosity, which has 10 science instruments designed to search for signs of life, including methane, and to help determine if this gas is from a biological or geological source. Credit: Ken Kremer

The car sized Curiosity rover is the most ambitious, important and far reaching science probe ever sent to the Red Planet – and the likes of which we have never seen or attempted before.

“Science fiction is now science fact,” said Doug McCuistion, director of the Mars Exploration Program at NASA Headquarters at the post launch briefing for reporters at KSC. “We’re flying to Mars. We’ll get it on the ground… and see what we find.”

“’Ecstatic’ – in a word, NASA is Ecstatic. We have started a new Era in the Exploration of Mars with this mission – technologically and scientifically. MSL is enormous, the equivalent of 3 missions frankly.”

“We’re exactly where we want to be, moving fast and cruising to Mars.”

Curiosity Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) rover blasts off for Mars atop an Atlas V rocket on Nov. 26 at 10:02 a.m. EST from Cape Canaveral, Florida. Credit: Mike Deep/David Gonzales

NASA is utilizing an unprecedented, rocket powered precision descent system to guide Curiosity to a pinpoint touch down inside the Gale Crater landing site, with all six wheels deployed.

Gale Crater is 154 km (96 mi) wide. It is dominated by layered terrain and an enormous mountain rising some 5 km (3 mi) above the crater floor which exhibits exposures of minerals that may have preserved evidence of ancient or extant Martian life.

“I hope we have more work than the scientists can actually handle. I expect them all to be overrun with data that they’ve never seen before.”

“The first images from the bottom of Gale Crater should be stunning. The public will see vistas we’ve never seen before. It will be like sitting at the bottom of the Grand Canyon,” said McCuistion.

Topography of Gale Crater - Curiosity Mars rover landing site
Color coding in this image of Gale Crater on Mars represents differences in elevation. The vertical difference from a low point inside the landing ellipse for NASA's Curiosity Mars Science Laboratory (yellow dot) to a high point on the mountain inside the crater (red dot) is about 3 miles (5 kilometers). Credit: NASA

The 197 ft tall Atlas booster’s powerful liquid and solid fueled engines ignited precisely on time with a flash and thunderous roar that grew more intense as the expanding plume of smoke and fire trailed behind the rapidly ascending rockets tail.

The Atlas rockets first stage is comprised of twin Russian built RD-180 liquid fueled engines and four US built solid rocket motors.

The engines powered the accelerating climb to space and propelled the booster away from the US East Coast as it majestically arced over in between broken layers of clouds. The four solids jettisoned 1 minute and 55 seconds later. The liquid fueled core continued firing until its propellants were expended and dropped away at T plus four and one half minutes.

The hydrogen fueled Centaur second stage successfully fired twice and placed the probe on an Earth escape trajectory at 22,500 MPH.

The MSL spacecraft separates and heads on its way to Mars. Credit: NASA TV

The Atlas V initially lofted the spacecraft into Earth orbit and then, with a second burst from the Centaur, pushed it out of Earth orbit into a 352-million-mile (567-million-kilometer) journey to Mars.

MSL spacecraft separation of the solar powered cruise stage stack from the Centaur upper stage occurred at T plus 44 minutes and was beautifully captured on a live NASA TV streaming video feed.

“Our spacecraft is in excellent health and it’s on its way to Mars,” said Pete Theisinger, Mars Science Laboratory Project Manager from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California at the briefing. “I want to thank the launch team, United Launch Alliance, NASA’s Launch Services Program and NASA’s Kennedy Space Center for their help getting MSL into space.”

Curiosity punches through Florida clouds on the way to Mars. Credit: Mike Deep/David Gonzales

“The launch vehicle has given us a first rate injection into our trajectory and we’re in cruise mode. The spacecraft is in communication, thermally stable and power positive.”

“I’m very happy.”

“Our first trajectory correction maneuver will be in about two weeks,” Theisinger added.

“We’ll do instrument checkouts in the next several weeks and continue with thorough preparations for the landing on Mars and operations on the surface.”

Curiosity is a 900 kg (2000 pound) behemoth. She measures 3 meters (10 ft) in length and is nearly twice the size and five times as heavy as Spirit and Opportunity, NASA’s prior set of twin Martian robots.

NASA was only given enough money to build 1 rover this time.

“We are ready to go for landing on the surface of Mars, and we couldn’t be happier,” said John Grotzinger, Mars Science Laboratory Project Scientist from the California Institute of Technology at the briefing. “I think this mission will be a great one. It is an important next step in NASA’s overall goal to address the issue of life in the universe.”

Pete Theisinger, Mars Science Laboratory Project Manager from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California and John Grotzinger, Mars Science Laboratory Project Scientist from the California Institute of Technology at the Nov. 26 post-launch media briefing at the Kennedy Space Center (KSC), pose with model of Atlas V rocket. Credit: Ken Kremer

Curiosity is equipped with a powerful 75 kilogram (165 pounds) array of 10 state-of-the-art science instruments weighing 15 times more than its predecessor’s science payloads.

Curiosity rover launches to Mars atop an Atlas V rocket on Nov. 26 from Cape Canaveral, Florida. Credit: Mike Killian/Zero-G News

A drill and scoop located at the end of the robotic arm will gather soil and powdered samples of rock interiors, then sieve and parcel out these samples into analytical laboratory instruments inside the rover. A laser will zap rocks to determine elemental composition.

“We are not a life detection mission.”

“It is important to distinguish that as an intermediate mission between the Mars Exploration Rovers, which was the search for water, and future missions, which may undertake life detection.”

“Our mission is about looking for ancient habitable environments – a time on Mars which is very different from the conditions on Mars today.”

“The promise of Mars Science Laboratory, assuming that all things behave nominally, is we can deliver to you a history of formerly, potentially habitable environments on Mars,” Grotzinger said at the briefing. “But the expectation that we’re going to find organic carbon, that’s the hope of Mars Science Laboratory. It’s a long shot, but we’re going to try.”

Today’s liftoff was the culmination of about 10 years of efforts by the more than 250 science team members and the diligent work of thousands more researchers, engineers and technicians spread around numerous locations across the United States and NASA’s international partners including Canada, Germany, Russia, Spain and France.

“Scientists chose the site they wanted to go to for the first time in history, because of the precision engineering landing system. We are going to the very best place we could find, exactly where we want to go.”

“I can’t wait to get on the ground,” said Grotzinger.

John Grotzinger, Mars Science Laboratory Project Scientist from the California Institute of Technology and Doug McCuistion, director of the Mars Exploration Program at NASA Headquarters at the post launch briefing for reporters at KSC. Credit: Ken Kremer

Complete Coverage of Curiosity – NASA’s Next Mars Rover launched 26 Nov. 2011
Read continuing features about Curiosity by Ken Kremer starting here:

Mars Trek – Curiosity Poised to Search for Signs of Life
Curiosity Rover ‘Locked and Loaded’ for Quantum Leap in Pursuit of Martian Microbial Life
Science Rich Gale Crater and NASA’s Curiosity Mars Rover in Glorious 3-D – Touchdown in a Habitable Zone
Curiosity Powered Up for Martian Voyage on Nov. 26 – Exclusive Message from Chief Engineer Rob Manning
NASA’s Curiosity Set to Search for Signs of Martian Life
Curiosity Rover Bolted to Atlas Rocket – In Search of Martian Microbial Habitats
Closing the Clamshell on a Martian Curiosity
Curiosity Buttoned Up for Martian Voyage in Search of Life’s Ingredients
Assembling Curiosity’s Rocket to Mars
Encapsulating Curiosity for Martian Flight Test
Dramatic New NASA Animation Depicts Next Mars Rover in Action
Packing a Mars Rover for the Trip to Florida; Time Lapse Video
Test Roving NASA’s Curiosity on Earth

NASA’s Curiosity Set to Search for Signs of Martian Life

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Nov 19 Update: MSL launch delayed 24 h to Nov. 26 – details later

In just 7 days, Earth’s most advanced robotic roving emissary will liftoff from Florida on a fantastic journey to the Red Planet and the search for extraterrestrial life will take a quantum leap forward. Scientists are thrilled that the noble endeavor of the rover Curiosity is finally at hand after seven years of painstaking work.

NASA’s Curiosity Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) rover is vastly more capable than any other roving vehicle ever sent to the surface of another celestial body. Mars is the most Earth-like planet in our Solar System and a prime target to investigate for the genesis of life beyond our home planet.

Curiosity is all buttoned up inside an aeroshell at a seaside launch pad atop an Atlas V rocket and final preparations are underway at the Florida Space Coast leading to a morning liftoff at 10:25 a.m. EST on Nov. 25, the day after the Thanksgiving holiday.

MSL is ready to go,” said Doug McCuistion, director of the Mars Exploration Program at NASA Headquarters in Washington, at a media briefing. “It’s a momentous occasion. We’re just thrilled that we’re at this point.”

“Curiosity is ‘Seeking the Signs of Life’, but is not a life detection mission. It is equipped with state-of-the-art science instruments.”

This oblique view of Gale Crater shows the landing site and the mound of layered rocks that NASA's Mars Science Laboratory will investigate. The landing site is in the smooth area in front of the mound. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASU/UA

“It’s not your father’s rover. It’s a 2000 pound machine that’s over 6 feet tall – truly a wonder of engineering,” McCuistion stated.

“Curiosity is the best of US imagination and US innovation. And we have partners from France, Canada, Germany, Russia and Spain.”

“Curiosity sits squarely in the middle of our two decade long strategic plan of Mars exploration and will bridge the gap scientifically and technically from the past decade to the next decade.”

Mars Science Laboratory builds upon the improved understanding about Mars gained from current and recent missions,” said McCuistion. “This mission advances technologies and science that will move us toward missions to return samples from and eventually send humans to Mars.”

Curiosity Mars Science Laboratory Rover - inside the Cleanroom at KSC. Credit: Ken Kremer

The car sized rover is due to arrive at Mars in August 2012 and land inside Gale Crater near the base of a towering and layered Martian mountain, some 5 kilometers (3 miles) high. Gale Crater is 154 km (96 mi) in diameter.

The landing site was chosen because it offers multiple locations with different types of geologic environments that are potentially habitable and may have preserved evidence about the development of microbial life, if it ever formed.

Gale Crater is believed to contain clays and hydrated minerals that formed in liquid water eons ago and over billions of years in time. Water is an essential prerequisite for the genesis of life as we know it.

NASA's most advanced mobile robotic laboratory, the Mars Science Laboratory carrying the Curiosity rover, is set to launch atop an Atlas V rocket at 10:25 a.m. EST on Nov. 25 on a mission to examine one of the most intriguing areas on Mars at Gale crater. Credit: NASA

The one ton robot is a behemoth, measuring 3 meters (10 ft) in length and is nearly twice the size and five times as heavy as NASA’s prior set of twin rovers – Spirit and Opportunity.

Curiosity is equipped with a powerful array of 10 science instruments weighing 15 times as much as its predecessor’s science payloads. The rover can search for the ingredients of life including water and the organic molecules that we are all made of.

Curiosity will embark on a minimum two year expedition across the craters highly varied terrain, collecting and analyzing rock and soil samples in a way that’s never been done before beyond Earth.

Eventually our emissary will approach the foothills and climb the Martian mountain in search of hitherto untouched minerals and habitable environments that could potentially have supported life’s genesis.

With each science mission, NASA seeks to take a leap forward in capability and technology to vastly enhance the science return – not just to repeat past missions. MSL is no exception.

Watch a dramatic action packed animation of the landing and exploration here:

Curiosity was designed at the start to be vastly more capable than any prior surface robotic explorer, said Ashwin Vasavada, Curiosity’s Deputy Project Scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif

“This is a Mars scientist’s dream machine.”

Therefore this mission uses new technologies to enable the landing of a heavier science payload and is inherently risky. The one ton weight is far too heavy to employ the air-bag cushioned touchdown system used for Spirit and Opportunity and will use a new landing method instead.

Curiosity will pioneer an unprecedented new precision landing technique as it dives through the Martian atmosphere named the “sky-crane”. In the final stages of touchdown, a rocket-powered descent stage will fire thusters to slow the descent and then lower the rover on a tether like a kind of sky-crane and then safely set Curiosity down onto the ground.

NASA has about three weeks to get Curiosity off the ground from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida before the planetary alignments change and the launch window to Mars closes for another 26 months.

“Preparations are on track for launching at our first opportunity,” said Pete Theisinger, MSL project manager at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, Calif. “If weather or other factors prevent launching then, we have more opportunities through Dec. 18.”

Mars Science Laboratory Briefing. Doug McCuistion, Mars program director, left, Ashwin Vasavada, MSL deputy project scientist, and Pete Theisinger, MSL project manager, share a laugh during a news briefing, Nov. 10, 2011, at NASA Headquarters in Washington. Curiosity, NASA's most advanced mobile robotic laboratory, will examine one of the most intriguing areas on Mars. The Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) mission is set for launch from Florida's Space Coast on Nov. 25 and is scheduled to land on the Red Planet in August 2012 where it will examine the Gale Crater during a nearly two-year prime mission. Credit: NASA/Paul E. Alers

Complete Coverage of Curiosity – NASA’s Next Mars Rover launching 25 Nov. 2011

Read continuing features about Curiosity by Ken Kremer starting here:

Curiosity Rover Bolted to Atlas Rocket – In Search of Martian Microbial Habitats
Closing the Clamshell on a Martian Curiosity
Curiosity Buttoned Up for Martian Voyage in Search of Life’s Ingredients
Assembling Curiosity’s Rocket to Mars
Encapsulating Curiosity for Martian Flight Test
Dramatic New NASA Animation Depicts Next Mars Rover in Action

Closing the Clamshell on a Martian Curiosity

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Curiosity’s clamshell has been closed.

And it won’t open up again until a few minutes after she blasts off for the Red Planet in just a little more than 3 weeks from now on Nov. 25, 2011 – the day after Thanksgiving celebrations in America.

The two halves of the payload fairing serve to protect NASA’s next Mars rover during the thunderous ascent through Earth’s atmosphere atop the powerful Atlas V booster rocket that will propel her on a fantastic voyage of hundreds of millions of miles through interplanetary space.

Spacecraft technicians working inside the Payload Hazardous Servicing Facility at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida have now sealed Curiosity and her aeroshell inside the payload fairing shroud. The fairing insulates the car sized robot from the intense impact of aerodynamic pressure and heating during ascent. At just the right moment it will peal open and be jettisoned like excess baggage after the rocket punches through the discernable atmosphere.

Clamshell-like payload fairing about to be closed around Curiosity at KSC. Credit: NASA/Jim Grossmann

The next trip Curiosity takes will be a few miles to the Launch Pad at Space Launch Complex 41 at adjacent Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. She will be gingerly loaded onto a truck for a sojourn in the dead of night.

Curiosity in front of one payload fairing shell. Credit: NASA/Jim Grossmann

“Curiosity will be placed onto the payload transporter on Tuesday and goes to Complex 41 on Wednesday, Nov. 2,” KSC spokesman George Diller told Universe Today. “The logo was applied to the fairing this weekend.”

At Pad 41, the payload will then be hoisted atop the United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket and be bolted to the Centaur upper stage.

Installation of Curiosity’s MMRTG (Multi-Mission Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generator) power source is one of the very last jobs and occurs at the pad just in the very final days before liftoff for Mars.

The MMRTG will be installed through a small porthole in the payload fairing and the aeroshell (see photo below).

MMRTG power source will be installed on Curiosity through the porthole at right just days before Nov. 25 launch. Credit: NASA/Jim Grossmann

The plutonium dioxide based power source has more than 40 years of heritage in interplanetary exploration and will significantly enhance the driving range, scientific capability and working lifetime of the six wheeled rover compared to the solar powered rovers Spirit and Opportunity.

After a 10 month voyage, Curiosity is due to land at Gale Crater in August 2012 using the revolutionary sky crane powered descent vehicle for the first time on Mars.

Camera captures one last look at Curiosity before an Atlas V rocket payload fairing is secured around it. Credit: NASA/Jim Grossmann

Curiosity has 10 science instruments to search for evidence about whether Mars has had environments favorable for microbial life, including chemical ingredients for life. The unique rover will use a laser to look inside rocks and release the gasses so that its spectrometer can analyze and send the data back to Earth.

Technicians monitor Curiosity about to be engulfed by the two halves of the payload fairing. Credit: NASA/Jim Grossmann
Payload fairing sealed around Curiosity at the Payload Hazardous Servicing Facility at KSC. Credit: NASA/Jim Grossmann
Atlas V rocket at Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral, Florida
An Atlas V rocket similar to this one utilized in August 2011 for NASA’s Juno Jupiter Orbiter will blast Curiosity to Mars on Nov. 25, 2011 from Florida. Credit: Ken Kremer

Phobos-Grunt, Earth’s other mission to Mars courtesy of Russia is due to blast off first from the Baikonur Cosmodrome on November 9, 2011.

Read Ken’s continuing features about Curiosity starting here:
Curiosity Buttoned Up for Martian Voyage in Search of Life’s Ingredients
Assembling Curiosity’s Rocket to Mars
Encapsulating Curiosity for Martian Flight Test
Dramatic New NASA Animation Depicts Next Mars Rover in Action

Read Ken’s continuing features about Russia’s Phobos-Grunt Mars mission here:
Russia Fuels Phobos-Grunt and sets Mars Launch for November 9
Phobos-Grunt and Yinghou-1 Arrive at Baikonur Launch Site to tight Mars Deadline
Phobos-Grunt: The Mission Poster
Daring Russian Sample Return mission to Martian Moon Phobos aims for November Liftoff

Encapsulating Curiosity for Martian Flight Test

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With just over 6 weeks to go until the liftoff of Curiosity – NASA’s next Mars rover – prelaunch processing at the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida is rapidly entering the home stretch. Technicians placed the folded rover inside the complete aeroshell to match the Martian entry configuration components together and conduct preflight testing of the integrated assembly at the Payload Hazardous Servicing Facility at KSC. The aeroshell is comprised of the heat shield and back shell and encapsulates Curiosity during the long voyage to Mars.

The job of the aeroshell is to protect the Curiosity Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) from the intense heat of several thousand degrees F(C) generated by friction as the delicate assemblage smashes into the Martian atmosphere during the terrifying entry and descent to the surface.

Curiosity Mars Science Laboratory Rover - inside the Cleanroom at KSC. Credit: Ken Kremer

The rover itself has been mated to the back shell powered descent vehicle, known as the PDV or sky crane. The rocket powered descent stage (PDV) is designed to maneuver through the Martian atmosphere, slow the descent and safely set Curiosity down onto the surface at a precise location inside the chosen landing site of Gale Crater.

Technicians still have several more weeks of hardware testing and planetary protection checks ahead before NASA’s minivan sized Martian robot is encapsulated inside the aeroshell for the final time.

Rotating Curiosity's Back Shell Powered Descent Vehicle
At the Payload Hazardous Servicing Facility at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, the "back shell powered descent vehicle" configuration of NASA's Mars Science Laboratory is being rotated for final closeout actions. At this time Curiosity and its rocket-powered descent stage have already been integrated, and are now encapsulated inside the spacecraft's back shell. The configuration of rover integrated with the descent stage is the "powered descent vehicle." The back shell, a protective cover, carries the parachute and several other components used during descent. The yellow disks visible at the top of the configuration are the descent stage's radar antennas that will be used to calculate the rover's descent speed and altitude. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Another major task still to be completed is mating the aeroshell to the cruise stage and then fueling of the cruise stage, which guides MSL from the Earth to Mars, according to Guy Webster, press spokesman for NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory which manages the MSL project for NASA.

The launch of the $2.5 Billion Curiosity rover atop an Atlas V rocket is slated for Nov. 25, the day after Thanksgiving, and the launch window extends until Dec. 18. Arrival at Gale crater is set for August 2012.

Curiosity is by far the most scientifically advanced surface robotic rover ever sent beyond Earth and will search for environmental conditions that could have been favorable to support Martian microbial life forms if they ever existed in the past or present.

Final Closeout Actions for Curiosity's Heat Shield and Back Shell
At the Payload Hazardous Servicing Facility at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida, the "back shell powered descent vehicle" configuration, containing NASA's Mars Science Laboratory rover, Curiosity, is being rotated for final closeout actions. The flat, circular object in the foreground of the image is the spacecraft's heat shield. The heat shield and the back shell will together form an encapsulating aeroshell that will protect the rover from the intense heat and friction that will be generated as the flight system descends through the Martian atmosphere.Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Watch for my upcoming report from inside the cleanroom with Curiosity.
Read Ken’s continuing features about Curiosity and Opportunity starting here:
Opportunity spotted Exploring vast Endeavour Crater from Mars Orbit
Twin Towers 9/11 Tribute by Opportunity Mars RoverNASA Robot arrives at ‘New’ Landing Site holding Clues to Ancient Water Flow on Mars
Opportunity Arrives at Huge Martian Crater with Superb Science and Scenic Outlook
Opportunity Snaps Gorgeous Vistas nearing the Foothills of Giant Endeavour Crater
Dramatic New NASA Animation Depicts Next Mars Rover in Action
Opportunity Rover Heads for Spirit Point to Honor Dead Martian Sister; Science Team Tributes

Space Shuttle Enterprise Unveiled 35 Years Ago to Star Trek Fanfare

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‘Enterprise’, the first of NASA’s Space Shuttle orbiters to be assembled, was unveiled 35 Years ago on Sept. 17, 1976 to the soaring theme song and fanfare of the immortal science fiction television series – ‘Star Trek’. Members of the original cast (photo above) were on hand for the celebratory rollout at the Rockwell International manufacturing plant in Palmdale, California.

Today, the Enterprise is housed as the centerpiece at the Smithsonian’s National Air & Space Museum (NASM) Udvar-Hazy Annex in Chantilly, Virginia.

Check out these webcams for live views of shuttle Enterprise at NASM from the front and aft.

Space Shuttle Enterprise on display at the Smithsonian’s National Air & Space Museum Udvar-Hazy Annex in Chantilly, Virginia

NASA originally selected ‘Constitution’ as the orbiter’s name – in honor of the U.S. Constitution’s Bicentennial . That was until avid fans of ‘Star Trek’ mounted a successful letter writing campaign urging the White House to select the name ‘Enterprise’ – in honor of the popular TV shows starship of exploration. The rest is history.

Many scientists and space enthusiasts found inspiration from Star Trek and were motivated to become professional researchers by the groundbreaking science fiction show.

Space Shuttle Enterprise on display as the centerpiece at the Smithsonian’s National Air & Space Museum Udvar-Hazy Annex in Chantilly, Virginia. Credit: NASA

Enterprise was a prototype orbiter, designated as OV-101, and not built for spaceflight because it lacked the three space shuttle main engines necessary for launch and the thermal protection systems required for reentry into the Earth’s atmosphere.

Enterprise did however play a very key role in preparing NASA’s other shuttles for eventual spaceflight. The orbiter was tested in free flight when it was released from a Boeing 747 Shuttle Carrier Aircraft for a series of five critical approach and landing tests in 1977.I was fortunate to see Enterprise back in 1977 on top of a 747 during a cross country stop near the Johnson Space Center.

Enterprise in free flight during approach and landing test in 1977

In 1979 Enterprise was mated to an External Tank and a pair of Solid Rocket Boosters for several weeks of fit checks and procedural test practice in launch configuration at Launch Complex 39 at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

These efforts helped pave the way for the first ever flight of a space shuttle by her sister orbiter ‘Columbia’ on the STS-1 mission by John Young and Bob Crippen. Columbia blasted off on April 12, 1981 on a gutsy 54 hour test flight.

Enterprise in free flight during approach and landing test in 1977

In 1984, the Enterprise was ferried to Vandenberg Air Force Base for similar pad configuration checks at Space Launch Complex- 6 (SLC-6) for what was then planned to be the shuttle’s west coast launch site. All California launches were cancelled following the destruction of Space Shuttle Challanger in Jan 1986.

After three decades of flight, the Space Shuttle Era came to a historic end with the majestic predawn touchdown of Space Shuttle Atlantis on Jul 21, 2011. The STS-135 mission was the Grand Finale of NASA’s three decade long Shuttle program.

Following the retirement of all three remaining shuttle orbiters, Enterprise will soon be moved to her new permanent home at the Intrepid Air, Sea and Space Museum in New York City to make way for NASA’s new gift of Space Shuttle Discovery.

First Appearance of Enterprise
Space shuttle Enterprise made its first appearance mated to supportive propellant containers/boosters cluster, as it was rolled from the Vehicle Assembly Building at Kennedy Space Center en route to the launch pad, some 3.5 miles away, on May 1, 1979. Enterprise underwent several weeks of fit and function checks on the pad in preparation for STS-1, on which its sister craft Columbia took astronauts John Young and Robert Crippen into space for a 54-hour test mission. Credit: NASA
First Appearance of Enterprise
Space Shuttle Enterprise at Space Launch Complex 6 (SLC-6 ) at Vandenberg Air Force Base, on February 1, 1985. Credit: Tech. Sgt. Bill Thompson/USAF

Read Ken’s continuing features here about Discovery, Endeavour and Atlantis
Send Ken your pictures of Enterprise to publish at Universe Today.

Atlantis Final Crew and NASA thank Shuttle Workforce with space flown Tribute Banner

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Following the majestic predawn touchdown of Space Shuttle Atlantis at the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) to close out the Space Shuttle Era, the final crew of Atlantis, NASA Administrator Charles Bolden and KSC Director Bob Cabana thanked the Space Shuttle workforce for their dedication and hard work at an employee appreciation event held outside the processing hangers where the orbiters were prepared for the 135 shuttle missions flown by NASA over more than thirty years.

The four person crew of Atlantis on the STS-135 mission flew a special commemorative banner millions of miles to the International Space Station and back in honor of the thousands of workers who processed, launched and landed America’s five space shuttles. They unfurled the banner at the employee event at KSC in tribute to the shuttle workers.

“It’s great to be here in sunny Florida,” said STS 135 Commander Chris Ferguson. “Mike Leinbach [ the Space Shuttle Launch Director] said there was no way he’d let us land in California.”

“We want to express our gratitude on behalf of the astronaut office for everything you have done here at KSC, the safety you have built into the vehicles, the meticulous care that you take of the orbiter. As soon as we got on orbit, I was absolutely amazed that everything in Atlantis works so well. Everything looks beautiful on the inside.”

STS-135 crew and space flown tribute banner to Space Shuttle workforce. Credit: NASA

“I hope you all believe that every time we go, we take a little bit of every one of you with us,” Ferguson emphasized.

Atlantis was parked at the event as a backdrop for photo opportunities with the thousands of shuttle workers in attendance – along with over a hundred journalists including the Universe Today team of Alan Walters and Ken Kremer.

“Like Chris said, our one landing option was getting back to Florida and you all rather than anywhere else. It felt like being home again. Thank you for everything you have all done over the last 30+ years,” said Doug Hurley.

“We treated Atlantis with the utmost respect because we see firsthand how you process this vehicle and it is your baby,” said Rex Waldheim. “It is clean and well cared for. We did that for you because you all did such a great job preparing it for us.”

“You are such a special work force,” added Sandy Magnus. “There is no workforce like the space program workforce anywhere in the world. The pride, care, dedication and passion you take in your work is what makes it possible to have these very challenging missions and to succeed. You have to do everything right all of the time. And you DO. And you make it look easy!! Congratulations!”

The STS-135 crew then unfurled the colorful banner taken to the ISS aboard Atlantis to commemorate NASA’s Space Shuttle Era.

“We took this banner with us to space and this is our way of telling you that you guys rock ! We will present this to Mike Leinbach and Bob Cabana as just a small token of our appreciation for all the work you’ve done for us. Thank you for such a wonderful vehicle,” Ferguson summed up.

KSC Director Bob Cabana thanks the Shuttle Workforce. Credit Alan Walters (awaltersphoto.com)

The crew then waved good bye to the thousands of shuttle workers, posed with Atlantis one last time and departed with their families for a homecoming celebration at their training base at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas.

Atlantis was then towed a few hundred yards (meters) and came to rest inside the Orbiter Processing Facility to conclude her final spaceflight journey as the last of NASA’s flight worthy Space Shuttle Orbiters. She has began decommissioning activities due to last several months to prepare for her future retirement home at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex (KSCVC) just a few miles (km) away.

STS-135 crew pose with Atlantis and wave farewell to shuttle workforce at KSC. Credit: Ken Kremer (kenkremer.com

Atlantis permanent new abode at KSCVC is set to open in 2013 where she will be genuinely displayed bearing scorch marks from reentry and as though “In Flight” with payload bays doors wide open for the general public to experience reality up close.

For some 1500 shuttle workers, the day’s proceedings were both joyous and bittersweet – as their last full day of employment and last chance to bask in the glow of the triumphant conclusion of the Shuttle Era.

NASA Administrator Charles Bolden congratulates the Shuttle Workforce. Credit Alan Walters (awaltersphoto.com)
STS-135 say farewell to Atlantis and shuttle workforce at KSC. Credit: Ken Kremer
NASA shuttle workers welcome STS-135 crew at employee appreciation event. Credit Alan Walters (awaltersphoto.com)

Wheels Stop ! With Awesome Atlantis on the Shuttle Runway – Photo Gallery Part 1

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At Wheels Stop with Atlantis ! Here ended the Shuttle Era

A few short hours after the touchdown of Space Shuttle Atlantis closed out NASA’s Space Shuttle Era, myself and a small group of extremely lucky journalists and photographers were invited by NASA to journey to ‘Wheels Stop’ – Runway 15 at the Shuttle Landing Facility at the Kennedy Space Center for a thrilling and once in a lifetime eyewitness experience to the exact spot where Atlantis rolled to a stop.

After 30 years and 135 missions, the landing of the Final Flight of Space Shuttle Atlantis on July 21, 2011 at 5:57 a.m. concluded America’s Space Shuttle Program. The Grand Finale was commemorated with banners, quilts and celebrations at Runway 15.

The STS-135 crew comprised of Shuttle Commander Chris Ferguson, Pilot Doug Hurley and Mission Specialists Sandra Magnus and Rex Walheim.

It’s truly an honor and a privilege to be granted this extremely rare and magnificent opportunity to witness history first hand by the folks at NASA and the Kennedy Space Center – and share this with the public. Thank you !

See my Atlantis ‘Wheels Stop’ photo album below and more upcoming from Universe Today colleague Alan Walters

Space Shuttle workers and NASA managers commemorate the exact spot where NASA’s Space Shuttle Era ended at the shuttle landing facility after three decades and 135 missions on July 21, 2011 at the Kennedy Space Center, Florida. Credit: Ken Kremer (kenkremer.com)
Atlantis - The Final Flight. Banner displayed below the nose of Atlantis at Runway 15. Associate Administrator for Space Operations Bill Gerstenmaier (4th from right) poses with shuttle workers and managers at Runway 15 on July 21, 2011 at KSC. Credit: Ken Kremer
Atlantis - The Final Flight. Banner displayed below the nose of Atlantis at Runway 15 with shuttle workers and managers at Runway 15 on July 21, 2011 at KSC. NASA Administrator Charles Bolden and KSC Center Director Bob Cabana at far right. Credit: Ken Kremer
Awesome Atlantis nose and crew cabin at wheels stop for the Space Shuttle Era on Runway 15 at KSC. Credit: Ken Kremer
Quilt with all 135 shuttle mission patches displayed with Atlantis at shuttle runway after final landing at KSC. Homemade quilt crafted by shuttle workers. Credit: Ken Kremer

Technicians at work reconfiguring Atlantis after the final landing and draining residual cryogenic fuels during normal post flight processing activities at the shuttle runway. Credit: Ken Kremer

NASA Administrator Charles Bolden speaks to reporters at Runway 15. Credit: Ken Kremer

KSC Center Director Bob Cabana speaks with reporters at the Shuttle Runway. Credit: Ken Kremer
Associate Administrator for Space Operations Bill Gerstenmaier inspects Atlantis belly and wheels at KSC shuttle runway. Credit: Ken Kremer
Ken Kremer at ‘wheels stop’ with Space Shuttle Atlantis at landing Runway 15 at KSC - a thrilling and once in a lifetime eyewitness experience at the bittersweet end of NASA’s Space Shuttle Era. Credit: Ken Kremer

Read my features about the Final Shuttle mission, STS-135:
Ghostly Landing of Atlantis Closes America’s Space Shuttle Era Forever
Love of Science Drives Last Shuttle Commander – Chris Ferguson Brings Science Museum to Orbit
Revolutionary Robotic Refueling Experiment Opens New Research Avenues at Space Station
Water Cannon Salute trumpets recovery of Last Shuttle Solid Rocket Boosters – Photo Album
Shuttle Atlantis Soars to Space One Last time: Photo Album
Atlantis Unveiled for Historic Final Flight amidst Stormy Weather
Counting down to the Last Shuttle; Stormy weather projected
Atlantis Crew Jets to Florida on Independence Day for Final Shuttle Blastoff
NASA Sets July 8 for Mandatory Space Shuttle Grand Finale
Final Shuttle Voyagers Conduct Countdown Practice at Florida Launch Pad
Final Payload for Final Shuttle Flight Delivered to the Launch Pad
Last Ever Shuttle Journeys out to the Launch Pad; Photo Gallery
Atlantis Goes Vertical for the Last Time
Atlantis Rolls to Vehicle Assembly Building with Final Space Shuttle Crew for July 8 Blastoff

Bringing You There: Atlantis Roars into Orbit One Final Time

Videographers David Gonzales, Kurt Johnson and Mike Deep filmed the final launch of the Space Shuttle from the Kennedy Space Center Press Site.  The team used multiple cameras along with a high definition stereo audio recording device to capture the sights and sounds as Atlantis thundered into orbit. The goal was to provide the closest launch experience for the viewer without actually being there.

A Space Shuttle launch is a spectacle that will never again be seen.  The sequence begins with a tight shot of the pad in the final seconds of the count.  As the 3 Space Shuttle Main Engines ignite they flash water from the sound suppression water system into steam, sending a plume billowing away.   The entire stack rocks a couple of feet before settling back vertical. The Solid Rocket boosters ignite, launching out a second plume and lifting the 4.5 million pound stack off the ground. Spectators erupt into cheers and the shutters of thousands of press cameras click away.

Continue reading “Bringing You There: Atlantis Roars into Orbit One Final Time”