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New Mars lander touches down today

An artist's impression of "Curiosity" on Mars, assuming it isn't destroyed in a catastrophy of fire and mechano as it attempts to land.
An artist's impression of "Curiosity" on Mars, assuming it isn't destroyed in a catastrophy of fire and mechano as it attempts to land. NASA

SET your clocks, because at 3.31pm AEST, the Mars rover "Curiosity" will be landing on a crater on a faraway planet, ready to feed back information to Earthlings glued to their computers.

The first signals will be beamed to the Canberra Deep Space Communication Complex which has been deemed the "prime tracking station", listening to information through antennas in Canberra, Parkes and New Norcia near Perth.

Through the CDSCC, NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory will analyse the "seven minutes of terror" as the $2.5 billion spent on the project hinges on a spacecraft heading towards the ground at 20,000kmh.

Very low-resolution black-and-white images will be taken moments after landing, but the very first pictures from the rover's left and right cameras will not arrive at NASA for about two hours.

Of the 12 cameras, half are described as "back-ups" in case the others encounter technical issues.

Mission manager Jennifer Trosper said these first images will show engineers what obstacles surround the rover and indicate where it landed.

"Ensuring the rover is on stable ground is important before raising the rover's mast," she said.

"We are using an entirely new landing system on this mission, so we are proceeding with caution.

"The mast features a number of high-tech cameras, which may not be deployed for days after the landing.

Once deployed, it will begin taking 360-degree panorama images which will then take three days to arrive on Earth.

NASA will give updates on the landing and results on its official website, www.nasa.gov.

Curious Martian

Latest 900kg rover to Mars named "Curiosity".

It is designed to assess if Mars ever supported microscopic life forms. Curiosity's journey has taken 8.5 months to travel 567 million kilometres. It will (hopefully) in a part of a crater that measures 20km by 7km at the base of a mountain.

Topics:  curiosity, jet propulsion lab, mars lander, nasa, probing martians


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