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Driving Curiosity on the Planet Mars

Updated on September 13, 2012
Curiosity on Mars
Curiosity on Mars
Not much out there for the billions.
Not much out there for the billions.

For the NASA Curiosity Mars Rover team of six, a day at the office in Pasadena, CA., begins at home. Most rise at 0530 or 0600, throw on some jeans and T-shirt, eat, read the paper, take care of kids and take them to school. Upon arriving at the office, they focus on driving the $2.5 billion rover VERY carefully. Curiosity has six wheels and plutonium driven.

To drive the rover is nothing like a car. It has no joystick nor accelerator and the team instead enters hundreds of computer commands during the Martian night, which are then transmitted via radio. There is no real time driving but delayed. Once the commands are sent, the team goes home. It takes all day to enter the commands. The NASA office looks like any business office or IT office with small cubicles, a pantry of snacks. The Mars team is on floor six, while the Jupiter team is on seven, which is being planned. The drivers work on Mars time on a daily basis, which is about 40 minutes longer each day than on Earth. Morning on Earth is night on Mars and the drivers feel jet lag all the time, they never recover every three days.

The Mars rover has a rigid schedule and sends NASA a report at 1600 Mars time, which is 1344 Pacific Time, regarding a recent drive. The staff has 15 min. to determine if everything went well and begin planning for the next day's drive. The drivers drive blind at a pace of 30 ft. a day. Once a route plan is created, the team puts on their 3D glasses and look at photos of the area for danger areas. If the route seems fine, that is when the hundreds of commands are entered and sent. The Mars rover moves in centimeters, not feet, it is a horribly slow process. Sometimes, the command entered is a typo or wrong and the Rover responds with a question mark. The commands need to re-entered again and sent. Communication between NASA and Curiosity takes 15 min. time per command, so hundreds of commands require considerable time.


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    • perrya profile image

      perrya 5 years ago

      Thanks, Mars is my fav planet.

    • Glenn Stok profile image

      Glenn Stok 5 years ago from Long Island, NY

      It's great to be kept up to date with the rover on Mars. So of course I enjoyed reading your hub on how NASA actually controls it.

      I know that it takes time for radio waves to get to Mars and back again, so there is no way to control the Rover in real time, as you had mentioned. But I didn't realize how cumbersome the task really is. I also didn't know that NASA makes mistakes with entering the driving instructions.

      It's good to know that the Rover has been programmed to detect incorrect instructions and to question them. At least they have a chance to correct the errors, even thought it takes a long time to get the response about an error.

      If my thinking is correct, the time delay will increase as Earth and Mars continue to get farther and farther apart.

      It takes Mars almost twice as long to orbit the Sun as the Earth does (roughly 687 Earth days). So eventually we will both be on opposite sides of the Sun. That will be the extreme with the longest delay to control the Rover.

      Your Hub was so packed with information that I gave it an awesome as well as a vote up.

    • Billy Hicks profile image

      Billy Hicks 5 years ago

      I love that NASA is starting to worry about "potentially contaminating life" on other planets now (i.e. with the new Jupiter probe, and the possibility of bacteria on Curiosity).

      Very interesting Hub; voted up and such.


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