There is a strange looking car parked in the west end of the National Air and Space Museum in downtown Washington, DC. For now, it is only visible behind its security screen from the second floor landing above. From that vantage, the vehicle’s six wheels, robotic arm, mast, and other protrusions are clearly visible. But since this is the Air and Space Museum, it must be more than just a normal car.
Soon the barriers will be gone and the public will be able to view the vehicle up close and personal. And what they will see is a model of the next Mars rover, NASA’s 2011 Mars Science Laboratory. The rover, dubbed “Curiosity” will be launched to Mars later this year and will begin its mission to explore whether places on the Red Planet were ever habitable. Information on the mission can be found at: http://marsprogram.jpl.nasa.gov/msl/. The rover carries a suite of instruments geared towards understanding conditions on the planet and a full description of the payload can be found at: http://marsprogram.jpl.nasa.gov/msl/mission/instruments/.
The landing site for Curiosity will be one of four final candidate sites all deemed to possess a variety of features suited to evaluating whether Mars could have been habitable in the past. It is expected that NASA will announce the landing site in the coming weeks. Much more information on the landing sites proposed for Curiosity can be found at: http://marsoweb.nas.nasa.gov/landingsites/index.html.
The model of Curiosity will be on display through Labor Day of this year.
See the model of Curiosity and learn more about its mission at this year’s Mars Day! on July 22.
John Grant is a geologist in the Museum’s Center for Earth and Planetary Studies and co-chair of the Mars Landing site steering committee leading the MSL landing site selection process.