PASADENA: US space agency NASA's 900-kg SUV-sized Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) rover Curiosity is slated to land on Mars on Monday to explore whether the Red Planet had an environment to support microbes and survey it as part of the preparations for its human exploration.
The event is being billed as a path-breaking one which, if successful, promises to be as significant as the landing of humans on the Moon in 1969.
Indian engineer at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory Ravi Prakash, helping Curiosity to manoeuvre complex entry, descent, and landing, said the mission is full of challenges and requires thousands of events to happen successfully in a matter of minutes.
He said the event is being called "seven minutes of terror" as it will take as much time for the spacecraft to halt on Mars after travelling from the top of the Martian atmosphere at a speed of 21,000 km per hour or five times as fast as a bullet.
During those seven minutes, the spacecraft will be on its own, automatically deciding when to perform each of the thousands of actions required for the landing, he said. Curiosity would operate for 98 weeks (nearly two years) and is about five times larger than earlier Mars exploration rovers Spirit and Opportunity.
Scientists hope that Curiosity,equipped with a suite of 11 advanced instruments,will better success of the earlier explorations.
It would cover nearly 570 million km distance before touching down on the Red Planets Gale Crater and its heat shield will reach more than 2,000 degrees C as it takes off.
An on-board laboratory on Curiosity will study rocks, soil and the local geological settings to detect chemical building blocks of life and see what the Martian environment was like in the past.
The nearly $2.5 billion mission carrying Curiosity was launched from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on November 26,2011 on-board the powerful 58-m-tall Atlas V rocket as part of Nasas long term robotic Mars exploration programme.
Around 80 pyrotechnic devices will be activated on the spacecraft in quick succession to ensure that it lands safely during the final few minutes of Curiosity’s flight.
An instrument on-board Curiosity the Mars descent imager or Mardi will record a full colour video of the ground below and give space buffs an unprecedented sense of riding a spacecraft to a landing on Mars.