Mission Information
MISSION_START_DATE 2003-10-01T12:00:00.000Z
Mission Overview
    Development of the Mars Science Laboratory project began in 2003.  On
    November 26 2011, the Mars Science Laboratory mission launched a
    spacecraft on a trajectory to Mars, and on August 6, 2012 (UTC), it
    landed a mobile science vehicle named Curiosity at a landing site in
    Gale Crater.  During the trip to Mars, instrument health checks were
    performed and the Radiation Assessment Detector (RAD) instrument
    collected science data.  For the primary mission on the surface of
    Mars (ending September 28, 2014), the rover explored the landing site
    and gathered imaging, spectroscopy, composition data, and other
    measurements for selected Martian soils, rocks, and the atmosphere.
    These data will allow the science team to quantitatively assess the
    habitability and environmental history.  The prime mission's science
    objectives were to assess the biological potential of the landing site,
    characterize the geology of the landing region, investigate planetary
    processes that influence habitability, and characterize the broad
    spectrum of surface radiation.  The first extended mission retains all
    of the prime mission's objectives and will also strive to: identify and
    quantitatively assess the subset of habitable environments that are
    also capable of preserving organic compounds, and explore and
    characterize major environmental transitions recorded in the geology of
    the foothills of Mt. Sharp and adjacent plains.

    The science instruments, with an acronym or abbreviation and Principal
    Investigator (PI) are listed below:

    Science Instrument                                 PI
    -------------------------------------------------  --------------------
    Alpha Particle X-ray Spectrometer (APXS)           Ralf Gellert
    Chemical Camera (ChemCam)                          Roger Wiens
    Chemistry & Mineralogy (CheMin)                    David Blake
    Dynamic Albedo of Neutrons (DAN)                   Igor Mitrofanov
    Mast Camera (Mastcam)                              Michael Malin
    Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI)                      Kenneth Edgett
    Mars Descent Imager (MARDI)                        Michael Malin
    Radiation Assessment Detector (RAD)                Don Hassler
    Rover Environmental Monitoring Station (REMS)      Javier Gomez-Elvira
    Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM)                      Paul Mahaffy

  Mission Phases
    The Mars Science Laboratory Mission is divided in time into six phases:
    (1) Development; (2) Launch; (3) Cruise and Approach; (4) Entry,
    Descent, and Landing (EDL); (5) Primary Surface Mission; and (6)
    Extended Surface Mission.

      Development of the Mars Science Laboratory mission began in October
      2003 with concept and technology development, followed by preliminary
      design and technology development completion from March 2006 through
      September 2006, final design and fabrication from September 2006
      through January 2008, and system assembly, integration, and test from
      late January 2008 until launch on November 26, 2011.

      Spacecraft Id : MSL
      Target Name : MARS
      Mission Phase Start Time : 2003-10-01
      Mission Phase Stop Time : 2011-11-26
      Spacecraft Operations Type : ROVER

      The launch phase began when the spacecraft switched to internal power
      prior to launch and ended when the spacecraft reached a thermally
      stable commandable configuration after separation from the launch
      vehicle upper stage.  MSL was launched on an ATLAS V 541 launch vehicle
      on November 26 2011 at 15:02 UTC (10:02 EST) from Cape Canaveral Air
      Force Station, Florida.

      Spacecraft Id : MSL
      Target Name : MARS
      Mission Phase Start Time : 2011-11-26
      Mission Phase Stop Time : 2011-11-26
      Spacecraft Operations Type : ROVER

      The cruise and approach phase began when the launch phase ended, and
      ended 30 minutes prior to entry into the Mars atmosphere.  The MSL
      spacecraft used a ballistic Type 1 interplanetary transfer during
      cruise from Earth to Mars. The major activities during cruise included:
      checkout and maintenance of the spacecraft in its flight configuration;
      monitoring, characterization, and calibration of the spacecraft and
      payload systems; software parameter updates; attitude correction turns;
      navigation activities for determining and correcting the vehicle's
      flight path; and preparation for EDL and surface operations. Three
      Trajectory Correction Maneuvers (TCMs) were conducted during cruise.
      The only science investigation during cruise was radiation monitoring
      by the RAD instrument.

      Approach began 45 days before entry into the Martian atmosphere and
      ended 30 minutes before entry. During approach, the focus of
      operations was primarily on navigation activities (including a fourth
      and final TCM eight days before landing), and preparation for entry,
      descent, and landing.

      Spacecraft Id : MSL
      Target Name : MARS
      Mission Phase Start Time : 2011-11-26
      Mission Phase Stop Time : 2012-08-06
      Spacecraft Operations Type : ROVER

      The entry, descent, and landing (EDL) phase began when the Cruise and
      Approach Phase was over (30 minutes before atmospheric entry), and
      ended when the rover reached a thermally stable, positive energy
      balance, commandable configuration on the surface of Mars. During this
      phase, a series of events was self-triggered on the spacecraft. Before
      entry, the thermal loop was vented and the cruise stage was
      jettisoned. The entry vehicle, consisting of the backshell, heat
      shield, descent stage, and rover, performed a series of guided
      maneuvers. Cruise balance masses separated to adjust the center of
      mass of the entry vehicle. At 3522.2 km from the center of Mars, the
      vehicle entered the atmosphere. This was followed by peak heating,
      peak deceleration, supersonic parachute deploy, and heat shield
      separation. At the appropriate time, the descent stage engines
      started, the backshell and parachute separated, and the MARs Descent
      Imager (MARDI) started recording video. As the descent stage
      approached the surface using powered descent, at an altitude of about
      18.6 m, the rover was lowered on a descent rate limiter and bridle
      umbilical device to 7.5 m below the descent stage, and its wheels were
      deployed into the touchdown configuration. The descent stage continued
      descending until the rover touched down on the surface of Mars. The
      rover landed in Gale Crater at the latitude of 4.5895 degrees South,
      and longitude of 137.4417 degrees East, in late southern winter (Solar
      Longitude L=150.7), at 15:03 Local Mean Solar Time on Mars (August 6,
      2012, 05:18 UTC Spacecraft Event Time).  Upon successful touchdown,
      the descent rate limiter and bridle umbilical device were cut. The
      descent stage flew away and impacted the surface 650 meters away from
      the rover.

      Spacecraft Id : MSL
      Target Name : MARS
      Mission Phase Start Time : 2012-08-06
      Mission Phase Stop Time : 2012-08-06
      Spacecraft Operations Type : ROVER

      The surface phase began when the EDL phase ended and will end when the
      mission is declared complete.  The flight mission was designed to
      provide for a surface mission phase duration of at least one Mars year
      (687 days, or 669 sols).

      Following touchdown, a combination of automated rover sequences and
      planned checkouts was executed in order to bring the rover up to a
      basic level of functionality and to verify that the rover systems and
      payload were all operating as expected.  A surface initial checkout
      period was defined as starting at successful rover touchdown on Mars
      with descent stage separation/fly-away, and concluded with a
      transition to normal tactical operations.

      Originally, the prime mission was expected to last through Sol 670 but
      the project was given an extension of about 3 months, in order to sync
      up the beginning of its 1st Extended Mission with the NASA fiscal year.

      Spacecraft Id : MSL
      Target Name : MARS
      Mission Phase Start Time : 2012-08-06
      Mission Phase Stop Time : 2014-09-28
      Spacecraft Operations Type : ROVER

      The extended surface phase began on Sol 764.

      Spacecraft Id : MSL
      Target Name : MARS
      Mission Phase Start Time : 2014-09-29
      Mission Phase Stop Time : UNK
      Spacecraft Operations Type : ROVER
Mission Objectives Overview

    The Mars Science Laboratory began surface operations soon after the
    Curiosity rover landed. The overall scientific goal of the mission has
    been to quantitatively assess past and present habitable environments at
    Gale crater.  The MSL rover carries ten scientific instruments and a
    sample acquisition, processing, and distribution system.  The various
    science payload elements are used as an integrated suite to characterize
    the local geology, study potential sampling targets with remote and in
    situ measurements; to acquire samples of rock, soil, and atmosphere and
    analyze them in onboard analytical instruments; and to observe the
    environment around the rover. An overview of the science mission is
    provided in [GROTZINGERETAL2012].

    The MSL rover was sent to investigate Gale crater, which shows clear
    evidence for ancient aqueous processes based on orbital data and to
    undertake the search for past and present habitable environments.
    Assessment of present habitability requires an evaluation of the
    characteristics of the environment and the processes that influence it
    from microscopic to regional scales and a comparison of those
    characteristics with what is known about the capacity of life, as we know
    it, to exist in such environments.  Determination of past habitability has
    the added requirement of inferring environments and processes in the past
    from observation in the present.  Such assessments require the integration
    of a wide variety of chemical, physical, and geological observations.

    MSL is not a life detection mission and is not designed to detect extant
    vital processes that would betray present-day microbial metabolism.  Nor
    does it have the ability to image microorganisms or their fossil
    equivalents.  MSL does have, however, the capability to detect complex
    organic molecules in rocks and soils.  If present, these might be of
    biological origin, but could also reflect the influx of carbonaceous
    meteorites.  More indirectly, MSL has the analytical capability to probe
    other less unique biosignatures, specifically, the isotopic composition of
    inorganic and organic carbon in rocks and soils, particular elemental and
    mineralogical concentrations and abundances, and the attributes of unusual
    rock textures.  The main challenge in establishment of a biosignature is
    finding patterns, either chemical or textural, that are not easily
    explained by physical processes.  MSL is also be able to evaluate the
    concentration and isotopic composition of potentially biogenic atmospheric
    gases such as methane, which has been detected in the modern atmosphere.
    But compared to the current and past missions that have all been targeted
    to find evidence for past or present water, the task of searching for
    habitable environments is significantly more challenging (e.g.,
    [GROTZINGER2009]).  Primarily, this is because the degree to which organic
    carbon would be preserved on the Martian surface - even if it were
    produced in abundance - is unknown.

    The MSL prime mission had eight science objectives in order to address the
    overall habitability assessment goal: (1) Characterize geological
    features, contributing to deciphering geological history and the processes
    that have modified rocks and regolith, including the role of water; (2)
    Determine the mineralogy and chemical composition of surface and near-
    surface materials (including an inventory of elements such as C, H, N, O,
    P, S, etc., known to be the building blocks for life); (3) Determine
    energy sources that could be used to sustain biological processes; (4)
    Characterize organic compounds and potential biomarkers in representative
    regolith, rocks, and ices; (5) Determine stable isotopic and noble gas
    composition of the present-day atmosphere and of ancient H2O and CO2
    preserved in hydrated minerals (italicized wording is new; added for
    clarification); (6) Identify potential biosignatures (chemical, textural,
    isotopic) in rocks and regolith; (7) Characterize the broad spectrum of
    surface radiation, including galactic cosmic radiation, solar particle
    events, and secondary neutrons; and (8) Characterize the local
    environment, including basic meteorology, the state and cycling of water
    and CO2, and the near-surface distribution of hydrogen.

    For the first extended mission, the original eight prime mission
    objectives were retained and two new ones were added: (9) Identify and
    quantitatively assess 'taphonomic windows' for organic carbon (subset of
    habitable environments also capable of preserving organic compounds,
    through exposure age dating and refined models for primary facies
    distributions and diagenesis) and (10) Explore and characterize major
    environmental transitions recorded in the geology of the foothills of Mt.
    Sharp and adjacent plains.