Assuming it safely passes through its terrifying and complex descent sequence, NASA’s newest rover, Curiosity, should get its wheels on the Martian surface in just two short days, at 10:32 p.m. Pacific on Aug. 5. The size of a small SUV, Curiosity is packed with 10 state-of-the-art instruments that will allow it to answer questions about Mars’ wet history, current atmosphere and climate, and the possibility of ancient or contemporary life.
Curiosity represents a scientific and engineering leap over the previous rovers, Spirit and Opportunity, and its nuclear-powered battery will allow it to rove day and night. Over the course of its two-year initial mission, the probe will climb up a 3-mile-high mountain in the middle of Gale Crater, poking, prodding, and drilling into the soil and rocks.
Here we take a closer look at the individual instruments that will help Curiosity make the next breakthrough discoveries about the Red Planet.
From the moment the rover hits the Martian atmosphere it will start taking data. Studded in 14 locations around the probe’s heat shield are devices known as the Mars Science Laboratory Entry Descent and Landing Instrument (MEDLI). This equipment will provide information about Mars’ atmosphere and the dynamics of the rover’s descent, analyzing Curiosity’s trip to the surface and providing information helpful in designing future Mars missions.