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Tue Dec 4, 2012, 09:34 PM

Curiosity Rover’s Chief Software Engineer on sending a robot to Mars (interview)

... NASA has been sending spacecraft to Mars since the 1960s. The first 12 missions failed disastrously. Overall, one-third of all missions to Mars have failed. The Curiosity Rover is the biggest and most complex that NASA has even built, the size of a small car, and it was landed using a completely novel set of technologies.

It took five million lines of code to teach the Rover how to land. A heatshield made from an entirely new material protected the spacecraft during entry. The biggest parachute ever built was used to slow its descent towards the surface down to a mere 300 km per hour. At this breakneck speed the cord was cut and a jetpack attached to the top of the Rover fired up to slow it down to 2.5 km per hour and lower it down towards the surface. Finally the attachment to the jet pack had to be cut before it ran out of fuel and crashed down on top of the rover ...

BC: There’s a lot of other exciting bodies in the solar system and they’re not all planets, they’re moons. Moons of Saturn and moons of Jupiter. One in particular, Europa, is very interesting — in terms of maybe it’s an environment that could harbor life now; maybe there is a liquid ocean there on Europa. Maybe there’s something interesting to find out on these moons of other planets. What I’d really like to see is some missions to go off explore those other bodies in the solar system and really just look for how pervasive these environments are that could have once supported life ...


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