Thursday, June 09, 2011

Is NASA's $2.5 billion Mars rover doomed?

Mars Rover
NASA's next Mars rover, a nuclear-powered marvel nicknamed Curiosity, is supposed to blast off for the Red Planet later this year. But an audit issued this week by the space agency's inspector general finds a host of unresolved issues that could put the mission in jeopardy. Here, a brief guide to the mess:

What makes this rover so special?
It's "the most ambitious Mars project NASA has ever mounted," says Michelle Norris at NPR. Officially, the rover is called Mars Science Laboratory (MSL), but it's more commonly known as Curiosity

A nuclear-powered, car-sized vehicle, Curiosity is "the product of almost 10 years of work by 1,000 people," says Eryn Brown in the Los Angeles Times. Weighing four times as much as previous models (Spirit and Opportunity), it can drive long distances over rough terrain, and uses an unprecedented array of instruments to hunt for Martian life, says Lisa Grossman at Wired.

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