John Bridges: Mars Science Laboratory Blog

This blog is a record of my experiences and work during the Mars Science Laboratory mission, from the preparation, landing on August 5th 2012 Pacific Time, and onwards...


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John Bridges

John Bridges: Mars Science Laboratory

Posted by jcb36 at Aug 01, 2012 05:30 AM |

Welcome to my Mars Science Laboratory Blog.  My name is Dr John Bridges and I am a planetary scientist at the University of Leicester.  I am also part of the Mars Science Laboratory mission team.  During the course of MSL I will be keeping a record of what it is like to work on the most ambitious and exciting robotic lander that has ever been attempted.  Our aim is to test if Mars ever supported conditions which were habitable for microbial life.


At the moment I am about to get a flight which will take me to Los Angeles, and from there it is a short journey to Pasadena, home of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory.  That is where we will control MSL (or Curiosity as the rover has been named) for the first 90 martian  days (sols).  After that we will mainly work remotely from our home institutions.  Lots of questions in my mind both scientific and practical (like what will working on Mars time with 24h 37 min days be like for a protracted period of time).


Why am I part of this mission?    I’m fascinated about how the Mars we see today formed and in particular what the effects of water on the martian crust were.  By studying the martian meteorites I’ve seen clays, serpentine, carbonate and salts deposited by water.  We’ve learnt a lot from that about the temperatures and composition of the fluid.  In fact there is only one better way to study water on Mars and that is to go there, or rather to send a robot for us.  That is the way our generation is exploring the Solar System.  Captain Cook and other explorers discovered new lands on Earth using the advanced technology of their days, I think we follow in the same tradition.


However, this mission can’t be about great discoveries everyday.  For instance, we have to learn how to operate Curiosity and its instruments effectively on the hostile surface of Mars.  Its late summer in Gale Crater (our landing site) but the temperature wont get much above about 0 degrees C, even at noon. And during the course of the mission it will go down to at least -90 degrees C.  I will blog about how we use the MSL instruments - like ChemCam which directs laser pulses onto rock surfaces generating spectra from which we can determine mineral compositions.


Over the last few weeks I have been working with a group of MSL scientists on a map of the final 18 km landing ellipse.  I am also practising with the software we will use to operate Curiosity and its instruments.  Lots of telecons about our final plans.


Space exploration is risky, some Mars missions haven’t worked.  Those of us involved with Beagle 2 (like me), Mars96, 2001 Polar Lander know that.  But space exploration is a long term process and I think that with every mission and new set of instruments we learn from our successes and failures.


Landing is 10.31 pm (Pacific Time) on Sunday 5th August (add 8 hours for the British Summer Time equivalent).  I’ll be talking more about Entry, Descent and Landing (EDL) in a later blog.  A science team email has just come round telling us that the command ‘Do_EDL’ has already been sent to the spacecraft, so it feels like Mars is getting close...


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Mars Science Laboratory Blog

Find out the latest news about Mars Science Laboratory in Professor John Bridges' Mars Science Laboratory Blog.