Five Reasons You Should Pay Attention to NASA's Mission to Mars
|Mars Rover Curiosity, front view, taken during mobility testing on June 3 at the Jet Propulsion Lab|
As Veto explains, the process of exploring an extraterrestrial body follows this pattern: we look at it with telescopes, we fly past it, we land on it, we use rovers to explore it, we complete a sample return and then finally, we land on it. MSL is an important step forward in the process. But don't hold your breath for man to take his first steps on Mars anytime soon; by Veto's best estimate, the soonest we could be sending a human to the red planet would be in two to three decades.
Simply by landing successfully on the planet, Curiosity demonstrated the ability to execute a high precision landing even with a "very large spacecraft." Curiosity has often been described as about the size of a VW Beetle. Of course, in the grand scheme of objects on Earth, that's not so large. But to put things in perspective, according to NASA fact sheets, Curiosity is about five times as heavy and twice as long as the Mars exploration rovers, Spirit and Opportunity.
"Pathfinder was about the size of a microwave and Spirit and opportunity were like golf carts," Veto says. "For planetary exploration, MSL is like a tank."