In August, a rover named Curiosity touched down inside Mars’ Gale Crater, carrying 10 new instruments that will advance the quest for signs that Mars might once have been suitable for life. But Curiosity’s mission is risky. After parachuting through the Martian atmosphere at twice the speed of sound, Curiosity was gently lowered to the planet’s surface by a “sky crane.” This first-of-its-kind system has been tested on Earth, but there was no guarantee it would work on Mars.
With inside access to the massive team of scientists and engineers responsible for Curiosity’s on-the-ground experiments, NOVA was there for the exhilarating moments after Curiosity’s landing — and is there for the spectacular discoveries to come.
Watch NOVA: Ultimate Mars Challenge, December 11 at 9:00 p.m. on WCVE PBS/WHTJ PBS.
Why go back to Mars? Far from dead, Mars now holds untold poten- tial. Nearly half a century of Mars exploration has yielded tantalizing clues that Mars may once have harbored life – and may harbor it still. But when a revolutionary rover named Curiosity touches down inside the Gale Crater in August 5, 2012, it could be NASA’s last chance to set wheels down on Mars until the end of the decade. A marvel of technology, it is the most sophisticated robot ever to rove the surface of Mars. But the stakes are high and the risks are extraordinary. Half of all missions to Mars end in failure. Will this be one of them? If it succeeds, will it answer some of our biggest questions and usher in a new golden age of exploration?