Nasa worries over Mars landing

2012-07-11 07:28

Farnborough - So far, the scorecard for missions to Mars reads attempts 40, successes 14.

Not so good.

Well over 60% of Earth missions to Mars have failed, ever since the pioneering efforts of the former Soviet Union in the 1960s and including Britain's high-profile Beagle 2 space probe.

As Nasa's latest mission to Mars heads closer to the red planet, the head of Nasa's Mars Exploration Programme, Doug McCuistion, acknowledged that many things could still go wrong before its scheduled 6 August landing date.

The one thing that worries him most is if the spacecraft's heat shield will detach as planned when the US Mars Science Laboratory mission sets down a large, mobile laboratory on Mars - the rover Curiosity.

"If you look at the scorecard, Earth is doing less than 50%; less than 50% of Earth's missions to Mars have been successful," McCuistion, a former US fighter pilot, said at the Farnborough Airshow south of London.


In the seven minutes before its planned touchdown, the US spacecraft has a number of tasks it has to complete for Curiosity to make a safe landing.

First it must get rid of the heat shield and avoid a subsequent collision with it. Then it has to slow its descent to the red planet with the aid of a massive parachute as well as use rockets mounted around the rim of an upper stage. In the final seconds, the upper stage of the spacecraft acts as a sky crane, lowering the upright rover on a tether to the surface.

In spite of the challenges, McCuistion remains positive that the $2.5bn mission will be a success and praises the unprecedented international co-operation between Nasa and companies like German electronics company Siemens AG.

After all, Nasa, the world's biggest space agency, enjoyed success with its twin Mars Exploration Rovers in the mid-2000s.

"I can't really give you a hard number.... but I think we are in a medium-to-low risk environment," McCuistion said.

After spending eight months travelling to Mars, Curiosity will spend 23 months analysing dozens of samples drilled from rocks or scooped from the ground as it explores Mars with greater range than any previous rover.

Mars missions all share the same ultimate goal: Seeing whether Earth's nearest planetary neighbour can sustain life. US President Barack Obama has set a goal of the 2030s for a manned mission to Mars, but with budgetary constraints, Nasa faces a tough task defending its current $18bn annual budget.

Nasa is hoping a scorecard of 15 successful trips to Mars will help in that task.

This YouTube video demonstrates how the rover will land:

  • Henri - 2012-07-11 08:00

    i cant wait, popcorn set for the 6th of August !!!!!

  • thabzmadi - 2012-07-11 08:06

    Earthlings are coming Martians ....Seriously huge technical undertaking and good luck curiosity!!!

      clinton.badenhorst - 2012-07-11 16:29

      Why have we not sent a manned mission to Mars yet? I mean, 8 months is seriously not long of a journey...

  • juanne.coetzee - 2012-07-11 08:20

    Love the video. I must have watched it about 5 times already. Imagine witnessing that entire event as a "martian". It's harmless, but will certainly make anything run for cover...

  • JohanCduToit - 2012-07-11 08:21

    This landing procedure looks very complex, a lot that can go wrong. I hope it all goes well.

  • LanfearM - 2012-07-11 08:49

    Excellent news and I hope it is successful. Looking forward to it!

  • leaproach.thekeeper - 2012-07-11 09:08

    Have full faith in NASA. Images beamed to Earth should be spectacular.

  • jonathan.jensen.7524 - 2012-07-11 09:43

    So why the headline? How about: NASA positive about Mars Landing. Or is it compulsory to report on something in a way that suggests tragedy is around the corner. "In spite of the challenges, McCuistion remains positive that the $2.5bn mission will be a success "

  • goldman.osi - 2012-07-11 10:06

    WTF is "Nasa"?

      clinton.badenhorst - 2012-07-11 10:56

      Are you serious???

      skootzie - 2012-07-11 12:08

      I really hope you're joking.

      graydon.miller.1 - 2012-07-11 13:10

      @others He's correct (if a little pedantic). It is an acronym and should be NASA.

  • vincent.debeer.7 - 2012-07-11 10:46

    Looks a lot like the Karoo

      mauritz.kloppers.7 - 2012-07-11 12:16

      Maybee the Fracking guys can go there! and leave our Karoo alone

  • dany.duprez.338 - 2012-07-11 10:53

    humanity needs this to succeed ,we need to explore the oceans of Europa,Titan and Enceladus,etc..Imagine if all the money wasted on religion and wars over the last 100 years would have been spend on science,education and space exploration!!!

  • Matthew - 2012-07-11 12:26 that it.the way they describe a Mobile Laboratory you tend to think its something the size of a truck.oh well.maybe soon. My Question is going more so towards,why arnt we building a space station,as in like star wars big. A sustainable Space station with crew rotations of 12 - 24 months at a go. re newable oxygen,food, and sentry turrents/missles (that can and will never be able to be aimed at earth) for any kind of Asteriods that may have a collision course with it. I mean,look at what they thought were we the human race would be by 2001 (2001: a space odessy) just humour that,ok.So instead of smaller missions to mars and back,why not build a massive station,and work on upgrading it,and thus travel to and from earth.wouldnt be easier to be sending missions from there,rather than earth all the time? the intial fuel used to get off earth etc could used for other things. I know this a very "out there" (no pun intended) thinking and idea,but you know,shouldnt we be there already??? shouldnt NASA and space companies etc be given un capped resources so that we can not only start getting out there,not just checking out if mars once did or possible could sustain life.But more so getting to the part where we MAKE it sustainable."Terra Forming" and etc Food for thought one can dream =)

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