A Voice from Mars as Curiosity Gets Ready, Set, Go!–Corrected

A Voice from Mars as Curiosity Gets Ready, Set, Go!–Corrected

The first voice was transmitted from Mars today, and it’s Charlie Bolden’s!

During an afternoon press conference, mission experts at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory played this recording of NASA Administrator Bolden’s message, which was stored aboard the Curiosity rover before launch and transmitted back to Earth.    The minute-and-a-half recording congratulates the Mars Curiosity team and boasts that the United States is the only country to successfully land rovers on Mars.  “Curiosity will bring benefits to Earth and inspire a new generation of scientists and explorers, as it prepares the way for a human mission to Mars in the not too distant future,” he says.

Chad Edwards, chief telecommunications engineer for the Mars exploration program, conceded that such a message could have been sent via previous Mars landers, but the volume of data that can be sent back to Earth from Curiosity means that such a message can be transmitted without “sacrificing science bandwidth.”  To date, Curiosity has sent back 7 gigabits of data, two-to-three times more than previous Mars landers at this point during their missions, he said.

Meanwhile, Paul Mahaffy, principal investigator for the Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) instrument suite, revealed that the much-awaited “first sniff” of the Martian air turned out to be a sniff of Florida air.   Painting a brave face, Mahaffy said that it was a good test in that the SAM pump shut itself down when the current exceeded permissible levels, but the bottom line is that air leaked into the Tunable Laser Spectrometer (TLS) while the spacecraft was awaiting launch.  One of Curiosity’s goals is to see if there is methane in the Martian atmosphere.  The initial readings from the TLS, full of methane, were very exciting to the Curiosity scientists until they realized it was from Earth.

Despite that hiccup, the Curiosity team described today as the first time they had the “sounds, sights, and smells of Mars.”

Curiosity chief scientist John Grotzinger said that tomorrow Curiosity will drive 10 meters (about 33 feet) and “then we really start driving.”  But there are many places of interest between Curiosity’s current position and Mt. Sharp.  He said it would “take about a year” to get to Mt. Sharp.   Images released today showed geological features similar to those in the Grand Canyon here on Earth.


Image credit:  NASA/Caltech-JPL/MSSS

Other places of interest were shown in this image with distance calibrations provided, with 16.2 kilometers (km) representing the distance to the top of Mt. Sharp.   The inclines are too steep for Curiosity to reach the peak, but there is much science to be achieved in the portions that the rover can examine first hand.

 Image credit:  NASA/Caltech-JPL/MSSS

 Correction:  A typographical error has been corrected; Curiosity will drive 10 meters or 33 feet, not 3.3 feet.

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