Mars landing a 10 000km hole-in-one

2012-09-03 22:23
Jakob van Zyl

Jakob van Zyl

Multimedia   ·   User Galleries   ·   News in Pictures Send us your pictures  ·  Send us your stories

Stellenbosch - Landing the Curiosity rover accurately on Mars was akin to a champion golfer scoring a 10 000km hole-in-one, a South African scientist working at Nasa’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) said on Monday.

Speaking at his alma mater, Stellenbosch University, JPL associate director for project formulation and strategy Japie van Zyl told his audience that touching down on a precise spot on the Red Planet was a very difficult procedure.

"To put it in context, it would be a little bit like asking Ernie Els to tee off here in Cape Town, and hit a golf ball into the cup at St Andrew’s in Scotland.

"And to make life more difficult, he doesn’t know what the weather is like in Scotland. And if that isn’t enough... the cup is moving at 100 000km/h," he said.

The three-ton craft carrying the robot Curiosity rover entered the thin Martian atmosphere last month at a speed of 41 000km/h.

"And we’re supposed to stop in seven minutes," Van Zyl said, to laughter from his audience.

Curiosity touched down in Gale Crater on the surface of Mars on 6 August (SA time). The last stage of its landing saw the rover lowered seven metres on cables by means of a revolutionary "sky crane".

The dramatic descent was followed by millions around the world at the time, and has been hailed as a triumph of United States technological prowess.

Van Zyl said the six-wheel rover was about the size of a Mini Cooper car, and could negotiate its way over half-metre obstacles.

Namibia

He said some of the photos of the Martian surface it had sent back "reminds me of Namibia, where I grew up".

Curiosity’s mission was to climb a six-kilometre high mountain, dubbed Mount Sharp. Photographs of the mountain show it is made up of layer upon layer of apparently stratified rock.

"It represents millions of years of Martian history and we will be driving up the mountain... to analyse the rocks. The lowest rocks are the oldest, and the top rocks the youngest. We’ll be able to see if life ever existed there and, if so, for how long."

Van Zyl said there had been a question on how Curiosity would get up Mount Sharp, given that its radio-isotope driven engine generated only 110 watts.

However, the torque the engine delivered to each individual wheel on the rover was greater than that delivered by a V-8 engine on a Ford truck.

"So that’s how we’re going to climb up that mountain: slowly and deliberately."

Van Zyl said among the aims of the mission was to find signs of past life, which he stressed would be "an enormous discovery".

Responding to questions, he said the Curiosity was not looking for life on Mars, but for signs of past life.

"Some people think we’re looking for rabbits and stuff like that. But we’re looking for signs such as carbon compounds that will show life might have existed at one time. Of course, we’ll be delighted if we get a picture of the rabbit," he joked.

Extraordinary professor

Another puzzle was what had happened to Mars’ once-full atmosphere.

"Mars must once have had an atmosphere. It’s a big mystery about what happened to it."

Van Zyl is based at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, California. The institute is also the home of the JPL.

According to Nasa’s website, Curiosity is designed "to assess whether Mars ever had an environment able to support small life forms called microbes".

The space agency says the rover carries "the biggest, most advanced suite of instruments for scientific studies ever sent to the Martian surface".

Van Zyl also serves as an extraordinary professor at Stellenbosch University’s department of electrical and electronic engineering.

- SAPA
Read more on:    university of stellenbosch  |  nasa  |  science
NEXT ON NEWS24X
SHARE:

Read News24’s Comments Policy

24.com publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
8 comments
Add your comment
Comment 0 characters remaining
 

Inside News24

 
/Sport
 

3 sports games you have to watch this weekend

Whether it’s date night or a braai with buddies, plan around these three exciting sporting games!

 
 

Men24.com

How to maintain your mo, bro
Hottie of the day: Colette
Pro-skater Tony Hawk rides a hoverboard!
10 ways to drive her wild!

Jobs in Cape Town [change area]

Property [change area]

Travel - Look, Book, Go!

Magical Massinga

Spend 5 nights at the gorgeous Massinga Beach Lodge in Mozambique and only pay for 4 from R13 220 per person sharing. Includes return flights, accommodation, transfers and romantic turndown. Book now!

Kalahari.com - shop online today

20% off ALL TV Series

Choose from 1000’s of the hottest TV Series . While stocks last. Shop now!

Festive gifts!

Check out our awesome range of festive gifts to make everyone’s wishes come true. Shop now!

Seen something you like in our catalogue?

Find the perfect gift and save up to R5000 – As seen on the catalogue. Hurry and shop now!

Save up to R2200 on electronics! – As seen in the catalogue

Wishing for tech gadgets this festive? Save up to R2100 on hot tech products at kalahari.com. While stocks last. Shop now!

Up to 35% off books

Save up to 35% on the latest page-turners. While stocks last. Shop now!

OLX Free Classifieds [change area]

Samsung Galaxy s4

Mobile, Cell Phones in South Africa, Western Cape, Cape Town. Date October 24

Best bargain in big bay

Real Estate, Houses - Apartments for Sale in South Africa, Western Cape, Cape Town. Date October 25

VW Golf 6, 1.6 Trendline (Excellent condition)

Vehicles, Cars in South Africa, Western Cape, Cape Town. Date October 25

Horoscopes
Aquarius
Aquarius

There is a strong desire to be unique, self sufficient, right and in control today. Your mind is fast today and you may have the...read more

There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.
 
English
Afrikaans
isiZulu

Hello 

Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.


Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire 24.com network.

Settings

Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.








Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.