his artist's concept shows the sky crane maneuver during the descent of NASA's Curiosity rover to the Martian surface. (Photo : Wikimedia Commons)
Houston, we have a problem. NASA's Curiosity rover set for Mars will touch down on the Red Planet's surface to look for life sometime around August 5, but there may be a problem with the landing. NASA's Odyssey satellite, set to relay signals of the landing back to Earth, might just lose the signal of the Curiosity rover before it lands.
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It seems that the U.S. space agency's satellite in orbit around Mars is no longer in the best observational orbit around Mars. This could lead to a loss of signal as the rover sets foot (or wheels) on the planet that has captured our imaginations.
The Odyssey satellite's position will not have a direct effect on the rover's landing, but it will have other implications. "Odyssey right now looks like it may not be in the same spot that we'd expected it to be," said Doug McCuistion, the director of NASA's Mars exploration program.
"There may be some changes in real-time communication. We'll let you know as this develops; we still have more work to do. But keep in mind, there is no risk to [Curiosity] landing. It does not have an effect on that."
The Mars Curiosity rover is equipped with tools to try and figure out if Mars harbors, or has ever harbored, biological life. Theories indicate that just digging a few inches beneath the surface is enough to uncover any complex organic molecules, At a depth of 2 to 4 inches, the radiation levels decrease dramatically
"Right now the challenge is that past Martian landers haven't seen any organic material whatsoever," Alexander Pavlov of the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. "We know that organic molecules have to be there but we can't find any of them in the soil."