Culture News

Five Reasons You Should Pay Attention to NASA's Mission to Mars

Page 3 of 4

5.The Landing

After nearly eight months of travel through space, Curiosity and the scientists behind it faced seven minutes of nail-biting anxiety while the rover carefully placed it six wheels on the surface of the planet. After traveling at 13,000 miles per hour from Earth to Mars, Veto compares slowing to a dead halt in just seven minutes to completely stopping your car on the highway in about two seconds. Not so easy. Impossible in fact.

To make things even more complicated, scientists needed two other orbiting spacecrafts in the correct positions in order to land the rover. Veto compared the feat to coordinating the flight paths of three bullets.

"If you're flying that fast and you miss it by a second, it doesn't work," Veto says. "And if you think of the things we use everyday, none of them work 100 percent of the time. But you can't have any of that with a rover."

4. The possibility of life - past or present

No, they don't mean little green men (We're sure. We asked.) But according to Veto, what they do think could exist on Mars are the elements essential to supporting life. Using the rover, they'll be able to examine the isotopes, or slight variants of an element, present on Mars. Certain isotopes could indicate the possibility of life. By studying the mineralogy of the planet scientists hope to understand what kind of environment existed in the past, and whether or not it could have supported life.

At the most Veto says they could find microbes, tiny organisms like bacteria. Scientists have found microbes that survive in extreme conditions here on Earth, so the possibility of living organisms on Mars doesn't seem completely farfetched. What's more, they could find a form of life completely alien to us because it evolved in such a separate manner on a different planet.

KEEP PHOENIX NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Lauren Saria
Contact: Lauren Saria