The Union Recorder


August 14, 2012

Curiosity’s Curious Landing



All the people working on the MSL mission operate on Mars time. A Martian day is 24 hours and 40 minutes long. This means that slowly but surely your day will go out of synch with Earth time and you will at some point completely reverse your circadian rhythm. Because of this shift a day on Mars is also not called a “day” but rather a “sol”. The ease with which Mr. Sengstacken talked about “yestersol” was quite amusing to witness.

Curiosity is also not dependent on solar panels, as it carries its own RTG (radioisotope thermoelectric generators) which produce electricity for the rover’s operations. But that’s also not a limitless supply. The RTGs produce about 105 watts of electricity, 5 more than expected because it’s actually a little bit warmer on Mars than the forecasts predicted. The rover needs at least 130 watts when “awake” and more for additional science operations. So it charges its own batteries overnight and at the crack of dawn it’s ready to go again, using the remaining excess heat from the fuel pellets to keep warm during the dark hours.

Sengstacken expects the first movement of the rover around sol 9 or 10, and since we have those downward-pointing cameras he was excited about filming what he called a “sidewalk video” of the ground as the rover is moving.

By now all the cameras on the rover have been fired up and tested, the high-gain antenna has been calibrated and knows where to find Earth in the sky, and all comm systems are working perfectly. It’s easier and far more efficient for Curiosity to relay her data to an orbiting spacecraft which will then beam it to Earth, but in case none of those are available it can make direct contact via the dinner-plate sized antenna.

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