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'Curiosity' Lands on Mars

University of Redlands Physics Professor Tyler Nordgren talks about the Mars rover "Curiosity" and his role in creating the sundial on board.

Sundial on Mars rover Curiosity

Nordgren was part of the team that created this calibration tool for the Mars rovers Spirit and Opportunity that landed in 2004. Curiosity is fitted with the same tool.

University of Redlands Physics Professor Tyler Nordgren watched from home Sunday night as the Mars rover Curiosity ended its eight-month, 352-million-mile voyage to the Red Planet with a descent through the atmosphere of Mars referred to as the "7 Minutes of Terror."

"Having watched the '7 minutes' video so often, I knew what each of the steps of the descent would be as they happened and I knew that any one of them could be the glitch that killed the mission. It was nerve-wracking," Nordgren said.

The on-board calibration tool, the project on which Nordgren contributed, hasn't yet played its role.

"The calibration target won't come into play until they raise the main camera mast and begin to take images with the main cameras. For now they are just taking simple hazard avoidance images around the wheels. Maybe by the end of the week they will take the first color images using the target."

Nordgren said the information gathering will be a slow, step-by-step process. The planned basic mission is two Earth years, or one full Mars year.

"But remember," Nordgren said, "Spirit and Opportunity's (two rovers currently on Mars) mission was 90 days and Opportunity is still working eight years later. Who knows what the future holds for Curiosity."

Nordgren in the News


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