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NASA Curiosity rover: 13 engineering facts behind its success

Posted: 11 May 2015     Print Version  Bookmark and Share

Keywords:NASA  Curiosity rover  Mars Science Lab  avionics  engineering 

8. Sometimes the best ideas are the crazy ones.

"Everyone we showed this to thought we were nuts." - Dubord

Once through the atmosphere, Curiosity was slowed by parachute and lowered through a sky crane manoeuvre (see photo), an unusual landing process based on a helicopter lowering another helicopter that caught some scepticism but ultimately worked.


9. Engineering can be messy.

"You can't even tell where the boxes and wiring end." - Dubord

This look inside the embedded guts of Curiosity prove that engineering is not always neat.

Curiosity innards

10. Good engineering is a thing of beauty.

"This is one of the most beautiful pictures of my life." - Dubord

Beyond messy, good engineering can be a thing of beauty. Dubord smiled ear to ear when showing the photo below, the first from Curiosity on Mars, to the ESC audience.

Photo from Curiosity

11. Trust your designs.

"Sand dunes scare us a lot." - Dubord

When Curiosity reached a steep sand dune, it halted and messaged back to NASA that its navigators were not steering it into a safe zone. No one wants a resource-intensive rover stuck in a sand trap on Mars. So NASA trusted its design's autonomous intelligence and steered in a new direction.

Sand dunes on Mars

12. There's always another project ahead.

"2020 is a copy with new instruments and upgrades." - Dubord

Although Curiosity is cruising along, NASA and the world's other engineers haven't kicked back and relaxed.

Curiosity's goal is to look for habitable environments, while future rovers, including the ESO ExoMars Rover and 2020 Science Rover will seek signs of life and will do so with designs built off of previous rover and rover engineering experience.

13. There's no I in "team."

Dubord estimated that some 300-400 members of the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory made up the core team of people working to get Curiosity safely on its mission on Mars. The photo below includes their signatures.

Add to that support staff, vendors and others and the engineer credits thousands of people for making Curiosity possible.

NASA Curiosity team signatures

- Suzanne Deffree

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