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On August 5th 2012, NASA landed its most capable robotic geologist on the surface of the Red Planet. The Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) mission landed a 2000lb rover, the size of a compact car, to explore the planes of Mars. The rover, aptly named Curiosity, will search for organic compounds, characterize the climate and geology, and continue the search for life. One of the most challenging aspects of the mission, from an engineering perspective, was safely landing the rover on the surface. The entry descent and landing (EDL) system used a heat shield to accommodate its hypersonic entry conditions, followed by a supersonic parachute, and eight retro rockets for the powered descent phase. For its final terminal descent, a maneuver called the sky crane was used where the rover was lowered on tethers for touchdown. The talk will describe the motivation for Mars Exploration and how the MSL EDL engineering challenges were tackled with computational modeling and cutting edge experimental techniques.
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Engineering and Exploring the Red Planet
Rocket Scientist, Sr. Vice PresidentUniversity of Southern California