- George Zimmerman will not be charged in domestic dispute
- Russian officials press bilateral U.S. trade deal
- Selfies at Funerals blog creator retires after Obama flub: ‘Our work here is done’
- New Obama adviser Podesta is against Keystone but will steer clear of pipeline deliberations
- 40 Australian adults, children found in ‘one of the worst accounts of incest ever made public’
- Venezuela’s Maduro calls on student ‘price vigilantes’ to hit the streets, report businesses
- Atheists smug as Hindus join Satanists to demand display at Oklahoma Statehouse
- Bow before Valkyrie, NASA’s ‘superhero robot’ entry in DARPA challenge
- 10-year-old Pennsylvania boy suspended for pretend bow-and-arrow shooting
- Budget deal exposes GOP divisions; conservatives slam tax hikes, vague cuts
Road trip on tap for NASA’s Mars rover in new year
Question of the Day
PASADENA, CALIF. (AP) - Since captivating the world with its acrobatic landing, the Mars rover Curiosity has fallen into a rhythm: Drive, snap pictures, zap at boulders, scoop up dirt. Repeat.
Topping its to-do list in the new year: Set off toward a Martian mountain _ a trek that will take up a good chunk of the year.
The original itinerary called for starting the drive before the Times Square ball drop, but Curiosity lingered longer than planned at a pit stop, delaying the trip.
Curiosity will now head for Mount Sharp in mid-February after it drills into its first rock.
“We’ll probably be ready to hit the pedal to the metal and give the keys back to the rover drivers,” mission chief scientist John Grotzinger said in a recent interview at his office on the sprawling NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory campus 15 miles east of downtown Los Angeles.
The road trip comes amid great expectations. After all, it’s the reason the $2.5 billion mission targeted Gale Crater near the Martian equator. Soaring from the center of the ancient crater is a 3-mile-high peak with intriguing layers of rocks.
Curiosity’s job is to figure out whether the landing site ever had the right environmental conditions to support microbes. Scientists already know water flowed in the past thanks to the rover’s discovery of an old streambed. Besides water, life as we know it also needs energy, the sun.
What’s missing are the chemical building blocks of life: complex carbon-based molecules. If they’re preserved on Mars, scientists figure the best place to hunt for them is at the base of Mount Sharp where images from space reveal hints of interesting geology.
It’s a six-month journey if Curiosity drives nonstop. But since scientists will want to command the six-wheel rover to rest and examine rocky outcrops along the way, it’ll turn into a nine-month odyssey.
Before Curiosity can tackle a mountain, there’s unfinished business to tend to. After spending the holiday taking measurements of the Martian atmosphere, Curiosity gears up for the first task of the new year: Finding the perfect rock to bore into.
The exercise _ from picking a rock to drilling to deciphering its chemical makeup _ is expected to last more than a month.
“We have promised everybody that we’re going to go slowly,” said Grotzinger, a geologist at the California Institute of Technology.
Curiosity’s low-key adventures thus far are in contrast to the drama-filled touchdown that entranced the world in August. Since the car-size rover was too heavy to land using a parachute and airbags, engineers invented a daring new way that involved lowering it to the surface by cables. The risky arrival proved so successful and popular that NASA is planning an encore in 2020.
Curiosity joined another NASA rover, Opportunity, which has been exploring the Martian southern hemisphere since 2004. Opportunity’s twin, Spirit, stopped communicating in 2010.
After nailing the landing, Curiosity fell into a routine. The first month was dominated by health checkups _ a tedious but essential prerequisite before driving. A chemistry laboratory on wheels, it’s the most high-tech spacecraft to land on another planet so extra care was taken to ensure its tools, including its rock-zapping laser and robotic arm, worked.
By Matt Kibbe
The short-term deal will assure long-term overspending
- Rand Paul: Budget deal 'shameful,' 'huge mistake'
- Teen thugs in D.C. run wild -- even while wearing GPS ankle bracelets
- KIBBE: Another Republican budget surrender
- Study IDs reasons for late-term abortions
- Obama takes 'selfie' at Mandela's funeral service
- Obama administration blasts GOP for criticism of Castro handshake
- CARSON: Why did the founders give us the Second Amendment?
- Obama's antics at Nelson Mandela tribute: Jovial conversation, handshake with Raul Castro
- Biden guarantees victory on immigration reform
- VEGAS RULES: Harry Reid pushed feds to change ruling for casino's big-money foreigners
Independent voices from the The Washington Times Communities
Interviews and show reviews from the Los Angeles punk scene past and present. Los Angeles has always been rich in punk rock talent since punk rock was born.
Buzz on Bees is a column promoting the love and life of God’s greatest pollinators on earth: The Honeybee
Brazen, leading-edge, “call it like it is” columns and reporting from Ohio native, radio host and writer, Sara Marie Brenner.
A libertarian look at breaking news and political trends by author Tom Mullen.
Extraordinary day at Redskins Park
White House pets gone wild!
Let it snow