“Curiosity” Lands on Mars

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On Sunday, August 5th, NASA successfully landed the rover “Curiosity” on the surface of Mars. Find out more about the NASA Mars Science Laboratory Mission, and ASU’s involvement in it, from ASU School of Earth and Space Exploration Director Kip Hodges

Ted Simons: Good evening and welcome to "Arizona Horizon," I'm Ted Simons. A Maricopa County Superior Court judge ruled that an initiative to create an open primary system in Arizona cannot appear on November's ballot. The judge ruled that the measure deals with more than one subject and thus violates the state's single subject rule for constitutional amendments. Backers of the measure plan to appeal to the state Supreme Court.

Video: We're at altitude descending. Stand by. Remains strong. Touchdown confirmed, we are safe on Mars. [cheers]

Ted Simons: The animation is simulated, but the reaction is real. A perfect landing on Mars for NASA's "Curiosity" rover. Arizona State University researchers had a role in designing cameras and other equipment for "Curiosity," which was built to look for life on Mars. Here to talk about the rover and the mission is Kip Hodges, director of the ASU School of Earth and Space Exploration. Good to see you, thanks for joining us.

Kip Hodges: Nice to see you again.

Ted Simons: What were you doing when this excitement was happening?

Kip Hodges: I was riveted to the television like everybody else was who has anything to do with space exploration. It was a spectacular descent and landing. They stuck the landing.

Ted Simons: They really did. It's nice to see genuine excitement from folks who worked a long time on it.

Kip Hodges: And genuine tears, it was a spectacular moment.

Ted Simons: Kind of an overview of the goal and length of the mission. What's going on up there?

Kip Hodges: This particular mission, I think lots of people accidentally refer to it as a mission to look for signs of life. It really isn't that. It's a mission to understand the capacity of Mars today, and particularly in the past, to have supported life. Basically they are looking for more than signs of life, they are looking for habitability. One of the great things about this mission is because it's looking within Gail crater, the landing site, it's looking within a succession of sediments. It's almost like the Grand Canyon, in that it's like a history book. They are looking deeply back into the history of Mars and trying to evaluate whether or not conditions once existed on the surface of Mars that would permit life, and whether or not that might have changed through time. They are really trying to look at this entire record.

Ted Simons: By doing so, it sounds like a lot of the experiments, a lot of the investigation is happening there with the rover.

Kip Hodges: Absolutely. It's referred to -- the official name of "Curiosity" is the Mars Science Laboratory, it really is that. It's a rolling tele-operated laboratory where they can make measurements, take a lot of observations, make critical measurements of materials while they are there.

Ted Simons: And ASU -- Arizona State University -- is involved with the mission in a variety of ways.

Kip Hodges: Yeah, that's correct. My school, the school of earth and space exploration, we have a number of faculty, four specifically, [inaudible], James Bell, Jack Farmer, Alberto Bajar, all of whom were working on various instruments on it, sensors or imaging instruments that permit it to look at its surroundings and try and interrogate the samples there. We have lots of alumni from ASU and from the precursor of our school. Many of those alumni are actively involved in designing instruments, as well. We have a deep reach into this particular mission, which involves hundreds of scientists and engineers.

Ted Simons: If there were a focus for ASU's involvement, would it be cameras, mirrors, interpreting that information?

Kip Hodges: Yeah, cameras, sensors, and the interpretation of those things. Some of them were built directly by alumni. Most of our faculty and students and many of our alumni are involved in actually interpreting the data that comes back over the next years.

Ted Simons: The hundreds of scientists involved with the collaboration, talk to us about that.

Kip Hodges: It's a huge part of what NASA tries to do. They try to get as many schools as possible involved in the projects. This is a $2.5 billion project. Most of them are run out of the major NASA laboratories, in this case the jet propulsion lab. Dozens and dozens of people in academia are involved, as well.

Ted Simons: As far as Arizona State University, and science and space and exploration and the whole nine yards, where do you stand? What do you see for the future here?

Kip Hodges: Arizona is a pretty magnificent state with regard to its contributions to space exploration, with what we do and what the University of Arizona does, as well. We are positioning ourselves now at ASU to be able to build more and more effective instruments for space exploration. We just finished new laboratories in a new building on the campus of ASU that will allow us to do this in a much more profound way. There are only a handful of the universities in the United States that have the capacity to build instruments for NASA. ASU is one of them, and also the University of Arizona.

Ted Simons: This new building, I understand it'll have like a model of the "Curiosity"? What is that?

Kip Hodges: We're hoping to open the building up to the public in mid September or late September or so. We invite your viewers to come out and have a look at it. Much of the first floor is given over to a gallery of scientific exploration. We will have lots of public outreach there and have visible laboratories that people can come in and see what's going on. One of the exhibits is a full-scale replica of "Curiosity." It's about the size of a Mini Cooper or a car. It's a large display. We'll have real-time images coming down from the lander, as well. It'll be a great place to learn more about it.

Ted Simons: Now that the "Curiosity" is there and pictures are starting to come back, what do we look for?

Kip Hodges: You really want to look for the quality of images coming back in the next few days. The images now are pretty low resolution and the dramatic spectacular stereographic images will start coming down in a few days. They need some time to check out everything. They take baby steps working on Mars. In a week look for those pictures, they will be really spectacular.

Ted Simons: Kip, good to have you here, congratulations to the program and continued success.

Kip Hodges: Thank you very much, good to be here again.

Video: Things are looking good, coming up. Entry interface. Beginning to feel the atmosphere as we go in here. Reporting we are seeing Gs on the order of 11, 12 earth Gs.
We are now getting telemetry. We have pressure deployed around mach 1.7. Parachutes deployed. We are decelerating. We are on the ground. We're down to 90 meters per second. Standing by for separation. We are in powered flight. [Applause]
We're at altitude, descending.
Remaining strong.
Touchdown confirmed, we are safe on Mars! [cheering]
We've got thumbnails. [cheering]

Kip Hodges:Director, ASU School of Earth and Space Exploration;

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