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Everything you need to know about the Mars rover Curiosity (+video)

How does the rover get its power for roving? How many cameras does it have? Here are the essential facts about Curiosity, NASA's Mars rover that is scheduled to land on the Red Planet on Sunday night.

By Nancy AtkinsonUniverse Today / August 1, 2012

This artist concept features NASA's Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity rover, a mobile robot for investigating Mars' past or present ability to sustain microbial life.

NASA/JPL-Caltech

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Since launching in November 2011, NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) has been on a 560 million-kilometer (350 million-mile) journey to the Red Planet, with landing scheduled for late Sunday August 5 or early Monday August 6, depending on where you live on Earth. The Curiosity rover has been tucked away cozily into a spacecraft for safekeeping during flight, but when it reaches Mars surface it will encounter tough and frigid conditions, all in the name of science.

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On the same night Curiosity lands on Mars, a "Martian Triangle" will appear in sunset skies of Earth. The first-magnitude apparition on August 5th gives space fans something to do while they wait for news from the Red Planet.

This is NASA’s fourth rover mission to Mars, and its goal is to determine the planet’s past — and present — potential for habitability. Want to know more? Here are some facts about Curiosity and the mission:

When will it land on Mars?

For us Earthlings, the Curiosity rover will land on Mars at 05:31 UTC on Aug. 6 (10:31 p.m. PDT on Aug. 5 and 1:31 a.m. EDT Aug. 6) plus or minus a minute. This is Earth-received time, which includes one-way light time (13.8 minutes) for radio signal to reach Earth from Mars. The landing will be at about 3 p.m. local time at the Mars landing site.

How long does it take for the rover to get to Mars surface after it reaches the outer atmosphere?

About 7 minutes. Dubbed the “seven minutes of terror” by NASA, MSL will employ a parachute, landing rockets, a hovering sky crane, and other complicated mechanisms to help lower the rover to the surface of Mars.

How big is the parachute?

 The diameter of the parachute is 15 meters (51 feet). It is a supersonic parachute, the largest ever deployed on another world. The parachute can withstand 65,000 lbs of pressure, which is critical, as in the Martian atmosphere, once the parachute deploys, it will still be forced to cope with 9Gs of pressure. It is orange and white (the school colors of Caltech, home of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory)

How big are the spacecraft and the rover?

Cruise vehicle dimensions (cruise stage and aeroshell with rover and descent stage inside): Diameter: 4.5 meters (14 feet, 9 inches); height: 3 meters (9 feet, 8 inches)

Curiosity Rover dimensions: Length: 3 meters (9 feet, 10 inches) — (not counting arm); width: 2.8 meters (9 feet, 1 inch).

Height at top of mast: 2.1 meters (7 feet)

Arm length: 2.1 meters (7 feet). The arm is capable of collecting powdered samples from rocks, scooping soil, preparing and delivering samples for analytic instruments, and brushing surfaces on the planet.

Wheel diameter: 0.5 meter (20 inches)

Mass: 3,893 kilograms (8,463 pounds) total at launch, consisting of 899-kilogram (1,982-pound) rover; 2,401-kilogram (5,293-pound) entry, descent and landing system (aeroshell plus fueled descent stage); and 539-kilogram (1,188-pound) fueled cruise stage.

How does the rover get its power for roving?

Multi-mission radioisotope thermoelectric generator and lithium-ion batteries

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