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NASA’s new rover that is set to be deployed to our nearest planetary neighbor in 2012 has very big shoes to fill after the outstanding success of its predecessors. But “Curiosity” seems to be equipped with many gadgets to allow it similar success. Scientists have described it as the “most advanced vehicle sent to a planet yet”, and have great expectations that it can find some interesting things up there.

On one hand, the design largely follows the concept of the Spirit Rover, as why fix something that ain’t broke? It moves on a six-wheel system, but it is also a bit larger than Spirit, giving it extra power and mobility. Each wheel has its own drive motor, and the vehicle can perform a full 360-degree turn rather easily. Scientists can’t account for all the slumps and bumps on Mars, but Curiosity will hopefully be able to handle the majority of them.

NASA Curiosity Mars RoverAs suggested by a $2.3 billion price-tag, it also comes with the latest high-tech available. Perhaps its coolest feature is its laser rock-vaporizer, which is exactly what it sounds like – a powerful beam that can remove obstacles in its way although it is most likely going to be used for more benign science experiments. Not forgetting the exploration part, Curiosity also will employ various sample-collecting techniques with which it will drill into the Martian soil. It’s 3D cameras will also be useful when mapping the topography of the area, giving us the most detailed view of the red planet yet.

As with previous rovers, Curiosity will search for clues of life on Mars – not little green men ,of course, but small building blocks on a molecular level that may tell us a lot about the history of our neighbor. All this is in preparation for sending a human there, which hopefully will happen sometime in our lifetimes.

[ NASA ]

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