Fortifying Curiosity

Air Force researchers played an important role in testing and evaluating technology that went into NASA’s rover Curiosity that successfully touched down on Mars this week, according to service officials. Much of the rover’s difficult-yet-flawless landing was “directly related” to subsystems that Air Force engineers with the Arnold Engineering Development Complex “helped develop and validate,” said Dan Marren, director of AEDC’s Hypervelocity Tunnel 9 in White Oak, Md. AEDC’s role included evaluating the rover’s heat shield in the tunnel and supporting testing of Curiosity’s full-sized parachute at the National Full-Scale Aerodynamic Complex in California, the world’s largest wind tunnel, according to AEDC’s Aug. 7 release. After travelling 352 million miles over the course of 36 weeks, Curiosity landed on the Red Planet early on the morning of Aug. 6 US East Coast time. The rover will spend the next two years investigating whether Mars ever offered conditions favorable for microbial life. (Arnold report by Philip Lorenz III) (See also NASA release and Los Angeles Times report.)