Return to Mars: Roving with Curiosity
August 1 through September 16, 2012
The Exploratorium in San Francisco is one of only two museums in the country to host a full-scale model of the NASA-built Curiosity rover during this historic landing period. Images of Martian terrain to be presented as quickly as they’re available.
[caption id="attachment_5436" align="alignleft" width="300" caption="Artist conception of Mars Curiosity Rover Landing courtesy of NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory"][/caption]
In tandem with the scheduled landing of NASA’s Curiosity rover on Mars on August 5, 2012, the Exploratorium will host a similar full-scale model of the NASA-built rover with six weeks of special programming. From Wednesday, August 1 through Sunday, September 16, 2012, museum visitors will be able to see a full-scale replica of the Curiosity rover. Comparable in size to a small car, the model mirrors the actual Curiosity’s appearance, from its extendable robotic arm to the ChemCam, a laser instrument used to vaporize rock and soil samples for chemical analysis. See clip of Curiosity rover.
The Curiosity rover will be the first rover to land on the red planet since 2004, and the first spacecraft to land since 2008. NASA launched its latest mission to Mars on November 26, 2011. See the clip from NASA
As the Curiosity rover approaches its destination, the Exploratorium presents its own Return to Mars starting Wednesday, August 1, 2012. The museum will feature Exploratorium hosts Paul Doherty, Ron Hipschman, and Robyn Higdon, with behind-the scenes interviews with scientists and engineers on NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory mission, landing, and on-the-ground investigation, at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, CA.
Live Exploratorium webcasts will cover topics ranging from rover technology to research on extremophiles—organisms living in extreme environments on Earth such as deep-sea vents or Antarctica’s Dry Valleys. In addition to viewing the Curiosity rover, visitors can see Mars-related pictures and landscapes, and watch NASA animations. Once Curiosity has landed, daily images from the rover’s multiple cameras will be shown on the museum’s large monitors, as these images become available.
Sunday Aug. 5 @ 10:15 p.m. PDT to coincide with the historic landing. The museum is not open, this is an online event only.
Starting Tuesday Aug. 7, webcasts are scheduled for Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays at 1 p.m. to 1:30 p.m. PDT through early Sept. Webcasts viewable online as well as live in the museum's studio.
Visit http://www.explo.tv and http://www.exploratorium.edu/mars for schedule and updates.
Mars Science Laboratory Mission
With its rover named Curiosity, NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory mission is part of NASA's Mars Exploration Program, a long-term effort of robotic exploration of the red planet. Curiosity was designed to assess whether Mars ever had an environment able to support small life forms called microbes. In other words, its mission is to determine the planet’s "habitability." To find out, Curiosity will carry the biggest, most advanced suite of instruments for scientific studies ever sent to the Martian surface. The rover will analyze samples scooped from the soil and drilled from rocks. The record of the planet's climate and geology is essentially "written in the rocks and soil"—in their formation, structure, and chemical composition. The rover's onboard laboratory will study rocks, soils, and the local geologic setting in order to detect chemical building blocks of life (e.g., forms of carbon) on Mars and will assess what the Martian environment was like in the past.
The mission is designed to operate on Mars for a full Martian year, which equals about two Earth years. More information on Curiosity is at: http://mars.jpl.nasa.gov/msl/
Background: Mars, A Livable Planet?
Ever since astronomers first trained their telescopes on Martian poles, scientists have wondered about the presence of water on the red planet. Viewed from afar, white spots pointed to polar ice caps; dark areas became evidence of oceans—or perhaps a system of canals built by intelligent life. Speculations on possible Martian inhabitants waxed and waned, until a Martian meteorite found in Antarctica in 1996 renewed the debate. Could its magnetite crystals have been made by microorganisms—like those on Earth?
In 2008, NASA’s Phoenix Lander positively identified water ice in Martian soil. While no longer looking for signs of an alien civilization, scientists today still ask if Mars is a livable planet. Could it now or has it ever been able to support microbial life?
Return to Mars Exploratorium Webcast Hosts
Paul Doherty, Senior Scientist, is a physicist with a Ph.D. from M.I.T.; author of a dozen Exploratorium science books; a physics teacher of high school educators in the Exploratorium’s Teacher Institute; and a mountain climber, who has done first ascents in the Andes. Doherty has appeared many times on television, including Late Night with David Letterman, demonstrating science phenomena. Doherty joined the Exploratorium in 1986.
Ron Hipschman has worn many hats at the Exploratorium: exhibit developer, author of Exploratorium books and frequent writer for the Exploratorium magazine. In 1993 he helped launch the Exploratorium web site, the first independent science museum site on the world-wide web. In 1996, he spearheaded the museum’s experiments with webcasting; he has contributed technical expertise and hosted shows from locations as far away as the South Pole. Hipschman has also taught undergraduate physics and astronomy for 16 years.
Robyn Higdon is Director of Mediated Experiences (which includes the Field Trip Program, the High School Explainer Program, Public Programs, Cinema Arts and Moving Images). She has been deeply involved on NSF, NOAA, and NASA projects, including Ice Stories: Dispatches form Polar Scientists, Total Solar Eclipse: Stories from the Path of Totality, and NOAA’s Scientific Residency program. She has received several Webby and MUSE awards for her work.
Mission overview taken from the Mars Science Laboratory website, mars.jpl.nasa.gov/msl.