3….2….1…. Blast off to Mars!


On Nov. 26, NASA launched a rover to Mars with hopes to find evidence of former life on the red planet.


On Nov. 26, NASA launched a rover to Mars with hopes to find evidence of former life on the red planet.


Dozens of people of all ages gathered at 8 a.m. in the Denver Museum of Nature and Science to see the rover launch. The whole room's eyes were on the TV as they watched a timer on a huge screen count down and the rocket blow off into space. People cheered as smoke billowed and the rocket broke through the atmosphere and soared into the endless void beyond.


This new rover (called Curiosity) has the most advanced technology ever sent to Mars. It will be searching for evidence of water and other building blocks of life that might have been on the planet 3 billion years ago. It will also test radiation, which could help figure out if it's safe for man to go to Mars.


"This is like a modern-day Christopher Columbus in its importance," said Steven Lee, the chairman of the museum's department of planetary science. It's like discovering a new world. Dr. Lee, who is an expert on Mars, says, "Personally, it is a little hard to believe that there was life on Mars because of the harsh weather." He says it is also uncertain how long conditions for life may have lasted. Curiosity is the biggest rover ever sent to Mars, at about the size of mini-van.


It is also using a new landing system. It is combining a parachute system and thrusters to get it safely to the ground. Both systems have been used before but this is the first time they were ever combined. Steven Lee and scientists Steven Tyler, Kim Evens, and Dimitri Klebe all predict that the new landing system will work well, because of tireless testing by the builders of Curiosity. When it lands on Mars, there's a period called the "seven minutes of terror." NASA loses all contact with Curiosity when it enters the Martian atmosphere, so scientists won't know if it's intact until after those seven minutes. "It's always risky to land on Mars," said Steven Tyler, the mission manager with United Launch Alliance, which built the rocket. Only a third of all missions to Mars have made it successfully, but the more modern ones have been more successful.


Much of the rover and the rocket were built right here in Colorado. The state has contributed a lot to the space program. More astronauts have graduated from the CU Boulder than from any other university in the country.


In the Space Odyssey exhibit in the Denver Museum of Nature and Science there will be a full- sized model of Curiosity that will replace the model of the space shuttle Challenger. Dimirti Klebe, a scientist at the museum, predicts that this new addition will attract popularity.


The launch was open to public but when it lands on Mars you have to buy tickets to see it land. It is expected to land on Mars sometime in early August due to the 8 1/2 months it will take to reach the planet. It is expected to last for one Martian year, which is 687 earth days, but Steven Lee says that most missions last longer than expected. An example of that is an earlier rover, the Opportunity, which was expected to last nine months on Mars but lasted 32 times longer than that.