Last week, the next Mars rover — set to be launched to the Red Planet in 2011 — grew by 1 meter when NASA technicians and engineers attached the Remote Sensing Mast to the robot’s roof. The mast carries three sets of cameras, allowing the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) to ‘see’ the Martian landscape, helping it navigate, take photographs and carry out experiments.
Attached to the mast are two navigation cameras (Navcams), two mast cameras (Mastcam), and the laser-carrying chemistry camera (ChemCam).
The car-sized MSL, called ‘Curiosity,’ now stands at an impressive 2 meters tall, easily dwarfing the current Mars Exploration Rovers, Opportunity and Spirit.
Construction of the rover has advanced very quickly over the last few days, and on July 23 engineers commanded Curiosity to take its first, slow steps. Housed inside a clean room at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., and attached to computers via a thick set of umbilical-like cables, a live webcast watched the robot gingerly roll around.
Watch the video of Curiosity successfully reverse for the fist time across the clean room mats:
Now that Curiosity has its head attached, and engineers have proven the thing can move, we are gradually seeing what the final form of the Mars explorer will look like. All we have to do is wait until the mission’s scheduled launch date of November 2011…
Image: JPL engineers lower the Remote Sensing Mast onto Curiosity’s ‘back’ (NASA)