NASA's newest and most advanced rover, Curiosity, is due to land on the surface of Mars at about 1:00 AM Monday, August 6th. The Carnegie Science Center and Buhl Planetarium is marking the occasion with mid-day, hour-long programs on Saturday, Sunday, and Monday featuring NASA news briefings, animated videos and Q&A sessions with Planetarium staff.
Curiosity left Earth in November, 2011 and will have traveled 352 million miles by the time it attempts to land on Mars. 10 feet long and weighing almost a ton, Curiosity is about the size of a Mini-Cooper — by far the biggest payload NASA has tried to land.
The Buhl Planetarium's Robert Marshall said Curiosity is nuclear-powered, giving it many capabilities superior to earlier rovers, whose solar panels were rendered ineffective by Mars' dust storms.
If Curiosity succeeds, according to Marshall, it will mean many formidable challenges have been met. "You have a hundred things that have to go perfectly," Marshall said. "I think something like this is certainly the next step to actually sending people to Mars. What we want to do is send humans and geologists to actually study the surface, to create colonies potentially, to maybe even live on Mars. We're well away from that, but Curiosity is a step in the next direction."
Marshall said the Planetarium, through these programs, hopes to pique peoples' curiosity so they'll stay up to watch the landing live, or at least tune in to coverage of the landing as soon as they wake up Monday morning.