Hats off to NASA with the successful launch on Saturday of Curiosity, by far and away the most ambitious and sophisticated robotic lander ever to be sent to another world. The £1800m mission involves a gigantic Martian rover the size of a car and weighing almost a tonne, nuclear powered and which will touch down, hopefully, next to a mountain in Gale crater next August.'Hopefully' because there is a LOT that could go wrong with this mission. Curiosity is such a big machine, and so heavy (even in 0.38g Martian gravity) that NASA's standard 'airbag' landing technique (inflate a cluster of air-filled balloons around the desecending probe to cushion its final touchdown - sounds crazy, but it works) has been jettisoned in favour of a Heath-Robinsoneque 'Sky Crane' landing system, which will see the probe first slowed down by air friction, the parachutes, then retro-rockets and finally an elaborate shenanigans whereby the rover will be lowered to the surface from a hovering platform on cables.
|Mars Southern Polar Ice Cap - Image NASA|
According to one scientist's controversial take, the simultaneous rise in temperatures on Earth and Mars indicates a natural—and not a human—cause for global warming. But the vast majority of experts maintain that humans are responsible for Earth's climate changes and that the Mars phenomenon is mere coincidence.