Aug 5, 2012 12:00 PM

"Curious" about Mars? Curiosity science project to land tonight

TUCSON - NASA is heading back to the red planet with some help from the University of Arizona.

The University of Arizona is taking part in one of the biggest and most expensive rovers ever sent to Mars. Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity is the size of a small SUV and ran up a bill of $2.5 billion over the course of a decade.

The ground breaking technique to get Curiosity to the Martian surface has been dubbed "7 Minutes of Terror" by NASA. Seven minutes is the time it takes the vehicle to go from 13,000mph to a standstill on the red planet's surface. It's expected to touch down around 10:30 this evening.

Assuming the "7 minutes of Terror" goes off without a hitch, Curiosity will perform a laundry list of tasks over a two year period with one main goal in sight.

UA Professor of Planetary Sciences William Boynton explains, "The main mission of the Curiosity rover is to look at the habitability of Mars to see if it might have been able to support life in the past."

One of the main building blocks of life, water, is exactly where the University of Arizona comes into play. William Boynton has worked with Russian counterparts to come up with an instrument called DAN. "The instrument DANs purpose is to look for soil moisture," says Boynton. This sophisticated piece of technology measures the moisture content by sending neutrons into the soil and analyzing the data sent back to the instrument.

U of A's hand in the red planted mission doesn't stop there. Curiosity is also equipped with a "Hi-Rise" camera that is run by the University and other instruments that use X-rays to identify minerals.


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