Boing Boing 

When Curiosity was born: a peek at Mars rover during construction at JPL, one year ago

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In April, 2011, the engineers at JPL gave Boing Boing permission to visit the clean room where the next Mars rover, Curiosity, had just been completed, for an exclusive first look.

Photographer Joseph Linaschke made the trek (and donned the bunny suit) on our behalf, and brought back breathtaking photos of the magnificent martian machine.

The full Boing Boing photo gallery is here, with caption assist from JPL.

Above, the Mars Science Laboratory's descent stage, which files the rover down to Mars' surface using eight rockets, and lowers it on a tether for landing. The orange spheres are propellant tanks.

Here's a roundup of ways to watch, as Curiosity attempts landing the night of Aug 5 (that's tomorrow).

* There are even more images on Joseph's site (pssst: news orgs, they're available for licensing, ask him.)

Mission to Mars: Anticipating NASA rover 'Curiosity' touchdown

[Video Link] This Sunday night (and through the wee hours of Monday morning), engineers at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, CA will attempt to land the Mars Science Laboratory rover Curiosity on the surface of Mars. If the daring and complex landing plan goes right, Curiosity will enter the red planet's atmosphere, slow its descent by releasing a parachute, then lower itself to the surface on a tether with the help of a 'sky crane.' In this report for the PBS NewsHour, space journalist Miles O'Brien previews the highly anticipated space event. Read the full transcript here, and view video or download MP3 audio here.

Here's our roundup of ways to tune in and watch Curiosity make history. Things get hot and heavy starting around Sunday 830pm PT.

NASA's Ashwin Vasavada talks Mars Science Laboratory and Curiosity with Boing Boing

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people-645.jpg In April, 2011, Boing Boing (well, our photographer pal Joseph Linaschke) visited NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory for a peek inside the clean room where the Mars rover, Curiosity, and other components of the Mars Science Laboratory spacecraft (MSL) were in the process of being built for launch in late 2011 from Florida. Our big photo gallery with gorgeous images shot by Joseph is here.

Around that same time, I spoke with Ashwin Vasavada, Deputy Project Scientist at JPL for the MSL mission, to understand more about how MSL works and what its creators hope to accomplish, how one scores a job designing interplanetary explorer robots, and how this updated Mars rover is (or is not) like an iPad.

Read Boing Boing's conversation with Vasavada here.

Are we all Martians? The curious hunt for life on Mars

NASA's newest rover Curiosity, is zipping through space, slated to enter the Martian atmosphere early morning eastern time on Monday, August 6. (Image: NASA)


At the PBS NewsHour site, space journalist Miles O'Brien recounts the history of human exploration of the red planet, leading up to this Sunday's planned landing by the Mars Science Laboratory rover Curiosity. It's gonna be a nail-biter. Snip:

Ralph Harvey is a professor of planetary minerals at Case University. He spends a lot of time looking for Mars meteors in Antarctica. He has not yet seen anything that says "life" to him:

"When we argue about signs of possible life on Mars it's always the most subtle thing you can imagine," he told me a few years ago. "Something at the very edge of measurability, and life did not proceed that way on earth. Life is in your face. Life is something we have to scrape off the rocks to get to the story of the rocks. And I don't see that on Mars. I don't have that sense about Mars. So life on Mars is going to have to get in my face for me to believe it."

But what if life on Mars is hiding deep beneath the surface -- say in an underground aquifer? Could there be an underground habitable zone on Mars today?

Are We All Martians? The Curious Hunt for Life on Mars (pbs.org)

Mars Science Laboratory rover Curiosity headed for Mars landing. Are you ready?

NASA JPL's nuclear-powered Curiosity rover will try to land at the foot of a 3-mile-high mountain on Mars this Sunday night (technically, early Monday morning) to learn more about the possible building blocks of life there.

The rover is about the size of a car. The whole project costs about $2.5 billion. As you can see from JPL's now-viral "Seven Minutes of Terror" video, the landing process is something of a Rube Goldberg scheme. It'll be amazing if this works. It'll really suck for JPL, and the immediate future of space exploration funding, if it doesn't.

Here's how to follow the Mars rover's journey.

Read the rest

William Shatner and Wil Wheaton welcome NASA's Curiosity rover to Mars (video)

Check out these cool videos William Shatner and Wil Wheaton hosted for NASA, explaining how the Curiosity rover will, science willing, land on the surface of Mars on 1:31 a.m. EDT, Aug. 6.

Read the rest

What has a marshmallow-shaped lump of plutonium, rock-vaporizing lasers for eyes, and is headed for Mars?

At the Atlantic, Ross Andersen speaks with Michael Mischna at JPL about Curiosity, "The Robot of the Future That's About to Explore the Deep Past of Mars."

How much of a factor is climate change in the 2012 Western US wildfires? Ask a NASA JPL scientist.

JPL Climatologist Bill Patzert, on the current wildfire outbreak in the Western United States, and the role of climate change: "What's really changed in recent years is that there are more and more people building and living at the urban/wildland interface, so the human impact is greater every time these great fires erupt (...) Looking to the future, the uncertainties of human-influenced climate change will play a stronger and stronger role, and rewrite our fiery history." More here.

Space nerd family fun in LA this weekend: NASA JPL open house

Saturday and Sunday, June 9 and 10, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, CA opens its doors to the public for an annual Open House.

The event, themed "Great Journeys," will feature a life-size model of Curiosity, the rover currently bound for Mars aboard NASA/JPL’s Mars Science Laboratory spacecraft; demonstrations from numerous other space missions; JPL’s machine shop, where robotic spacecraft parts are built; and the Microdevices Lab, where engineers and scientists use tiny technology to revolutionize space exploration.

JPL Open House includes hands-on activities and opportunities to talk with scientists and engineers. For the first time ever, cell phone users, using text-message capabilities, will be able to take part in a mobile scavenger hunt. “The Voyage” scavenger hunt participants can search for secret capsules hidden across JPL and unlock secret codes.

JPL’s Facebook page is here. If you go and tweet from the event, use the #JPLOpen hashtag. Details are here, and more photos are here. (photo: NASA JPL)