How NASA's Mars Rover Will Help Humans Reach the Red Planet

When NASA's newest Mars rover, Curiosity, touches down, scientists will study its landing technology to understand how suitable it would be for sending a manned mission to Mars.

What's the Latest Development?

With just 32 days until Curiosity, NASA's newest Mars rover, is set to touch down, scientists are planning to evaluate how suitable its landing technology could be for a manned mission to the Red Planet. Curiosity will use unique landing hardware called the Sky Crane, a form of Supersonic Retro Propulsion where the same force used to lift rockets off of planets is turned around, helping to slow the vehicle as it rushes toward the Martian surface. Though the chemical processes needed for this strategy are well understood, rockets function differently at supersonic speeds and more tests are necessary to design engines that can handle that stress. 

What's the Big Idea?

A meeting of the Lunar Planetary Institute convened last month to discuss other ways to land a craft on Mars, namely Hypersonic Inflatable Aerodynamic Decelerators (HIADs) and various forms of aerobraking. HIADs are better known as heat shields, "which work by using a large surface area to create enough drag through the atmosphere of a planet to slow the traveling craft to a reasonable speed." Mars' thin atmosphere, however, makes resistance much less effective. An aerobraking system called a ballute might also be used, using the air rushing past the craft to fill a tethered balloon. "The compression of the air rushing into the ballute would cause the gas to heat up, in effect creating a hot air balloon that would have similar lifting properties to those used on Earth."

Photo credit:


Big Think Edge
  • The meaning of the word 'confidence' seems obvious. But it's not the same as self-esteem.
  • Confidence isn't just a feeling on your inside. It comes from taking action in the world.
  • Join Big Think Edge today and learn how to achieve more confidence when and where it really matters.

To boost your self-esteem, write about chapters of your life

If you're lacking confidence and feel like you could benefit from an ego boost, try writing your life story.

Personal Growth

In truth, so much of what happens to us in life is random – we are pawns at the mercy of Lady Luck. To take ownership of our experiences and exert a feeling of control over our future, we tell stories about ourselves that weave meaning and continuity into our personal identity.

Keep reading Show less

Active ingredient in Roundup found in 95% of studied beers and wines

The controversial herbicide is everywhere, apparently.

Surprising Science
  • U.S. PIRG tested 20 beers and wines, including organics, and found Roundup's active ingredient in almost all of them.
  • A jury on August 2018 awarded a non-Hodgkin's lymphoma victim $289 million in Roundup damages.
  • Bayer/Monsanto says Roundup is totally safe. Others disagree.
Keep reading Show less

Ashes of cat named Pikachu to be launched into space

A space memorial company plans to launch the ashes of "Pikachu," a well-loved Tabby, into space.

GoFundMe/Steve Munt
Culture & Religion
  • Steve Munt, Pikachu's owner, created a GoFundMe page to raise money for the mission.
  • If all goes according to plan, Pikachu will be the second cat to enter space, the first being a French feline named Felicette.
  • It might seem frivolous, but the cat-lovers commenting on Munt's GoFundMe page would likely disagree.
Keep reading Show less