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The Mission




Mission: Mars Science Lab
Rocket: Atlas 5 (AV-028)
Launch: Nov. 26, 2011 @ 10:02am EST (1502 GMT)
Landing: Aug. 6, 2012 @ 1:32am EDT (0532 GMT)
Site: Base of Mount Sharp in Gale Crater

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Mars craft bring weather stations to the red planet
BY STEPHEN CLARK
SPACEFLIGHT NOW

Posted: August 27, 2012


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Amid its rock-zapping duties and choreographed test drives, the Curiosity rover's weather station is logging sharp temperature swings, wind gusts and pressure changes to create an enduring record of Martian climate.


Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS
 
Every lander NASA has dispatched to Mars has carried weather instruments, but the sensors aboard Curiosity have better accuracy and measure more conditions than any mission before.

The weather station, provided by Spain with participation from Finland, includes a collection of sensors to track temperatures, winds, air pressure, relative humidity, and ultraviolet radiation.

An instrumented package on Curiosity's vertical mast has recorded temperatures soaring near 32 degrees Fahrenheit in the afternoon on Mars. Early morning lows have fallen below minus 100 degrees Fahrenheit.

The ground temperatures beneath the rover, measured using an infrared detector, varies even more than the air temperature. During peak heating, the ground temperature reaches above freezing.

Pressure readings have averaged around 7 millibars - less than 1 percent of the pressure at sea level on Earth. Winds so far have been light and variable, according to Curiosity's weather data.

The relative humidity averages less than 10 percent.

Once operational, REMS data will be posted daily here.

"We're understanding what it's like to be in late winter and early spring on Mars," said Ashwin Vasavada, deputy project scientist for the Curiosity mission. "Fantastic data so far."

Curiosity's landing site in Gale crater, which is positioned just south of the Martian equator, is now in winter. Spring begins with an equinox in September.


The REMS boom in pre-flight imagery. Credit: NASA
 
The Spanish-led meteorological suite - formally known as the Rover Environmental Monitoring Station, or REMS - is designed to take measurements at least five minutes of every hour during Curiosity's two-year mission.

"It will be operational for a long period of time," said Javier Gomez-Elvira, REMS principal investigator at the Center for Astrobiology in Madrid. "We need to send data every hour, every day, and every month for the years it is on Mars."

One of the instrument's wind sensors is not functional, and although the cause of the glitch may never be known for sure, officials attribute the failure to damage the instrument likely received during Curiosity's rocket-assisted touchdown on Aug. 6.

The rover's rocket pack may have launched pebbles or rocks airborne, and some debris may have struck the wind sensor's delicate exposed circuitry on a boom mounted on Curiosity's mast, according to Vasavada, who said the failure would degrade, but not eliminate, the mission's ability to measure wind speed and direction.

"The wind parameter is quite important to describe Mars meteorology, understand the atmosphere around the rover and the convective process," Gomez-Elvira said. "Many scientific aspects involve the wind."

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