Is Mars a Habitable Place for Humans?

When the Mars Science Laboratory enters the atmosphere of the red planet this weekend, engineers at NASA’s Langley Research Center will experience the thrill-ride of their lives.

Langley, one of several NASA centers engaged in the mission, is the agency lead for modeling and simulation of the spacecraft prior to launch.

Millions of simulations were performed leading up to the entry, descent and landing phase – the so-called “Seven Minutes of Terror” that determines success or failure.

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Meanwhile, NASA is inviting its social media followers to the first-ever multi-center NASA Social on Aug. 3 to preview the landing of the Mars Science Laboratory’s Curiosity rover on Aug. 6 EDT (Aug. 5 PDT). (Read: NASA to Host Social Media Event for Mars Landing)

Touchdown of the Curiosity rover being carried inside the spacecraft is scheduled for 1:31 a.m. EDT on Aug. 6.

In addition to Langley’s role in the Entry, Landing and Descent (EDL) phase, other contributions include:

  • Development of instruments embedded in the heat shield that will measure temperature and pressure during descent
  • Assistance in design of the parachute that will slow the spacecraft during descends
  • A mini-computer on Curiosity that will command a rock-blasting laser so scientists can study their composition.

Curiosity will be looking for signs that Mars once was – or still is – a habitable place for life as we know it.

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Langley’s official visitor center will host two Mars-related events:

  • Mars Family Day – Aug. 4, from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. EDT.
  • Mars Midnight Madness – Aug. 5-6, from 11 p.m. through the 1:31 EDT landing.

The Mars Science Laboratory mission is managed by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), Pasadena, Calif., for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. Curiosity was designed, developed and assembled at JPL.

Photo courtesy: NASA / Lockheed Martin

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