Curiosity (cu·ri·os·i·ty, noun) is defined as: 1. a desire to know or learn; 2. an object that arouses interest, as by being novel or extraordinary; and 3. from the Latin “curiosus” meaning careful, diligent, thoughtful, devoted; elaborate, complicated; meddlesome, officious, prying, interfering, curious, inquisitive; and a spy or scout, informer. Certainly, the Curiosity rover and its mission—dedicated to inquisitive thinking, exploration, investigation, and learning—exemplify all these things.
The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) launched a $2.5 billion spacecraft from Cape Canaveral, Fla., on 26 November 2011. The Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) mission: “to assess whether Mars ever was, or is still today, an environment able to support microbial life. In other words, its mission is to determine the planet’s ‘habitability.’”
Getting this hefty and bulky conglomerate of science equipment to Mars was no small feat.
An Atlas V 541 expendable launch vehicle–a 191-foot, two-stage rocket from United Launch Alliance, a joint venture of mil/aero giants Lockheed Martin and Boeing–was charged with launching the roughly 8500-pound MSL into space. Tucked inside the rocket, says a NASA spokesperson, was the MSL spacecraft; inside MSL and responsible for nearly one quarter of its weight was Curiosity, the largest rover ever to be launched from Earth.
Aerospace innovators have designed, developed, launched, landed, and controlled unmanned rovers before. What sets Curiosity apart from its predecessors? How is it unique?