Kids’ Science Challenge: Mars – How Far (Update)
KB: On the last Mars rovers that went to the surface, Spirit and Opportunity, I built the solar arrays. My job was to actually take energy from the sun, convert that into usable energy, charge up the batteries, and make those vehicles last for 90 days on the surface. Luckily, we’ve been moving around for more than five years.
JM: For engineers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, perfecting components in the lab is pretty much essential, because when a rover launches to Mars, there’s no turning back for modifications. I’m Jim Metzner, and this is the Pulse of the Planet. Mechanical engineer Kobie Boykins worked on the latest Mars Rover, scheduled to land this week.
KB: For the new Mars mission called Mars Science Laboratory the vehicle’s name is Curiosity. In terms of that vehicle, my job is the actuators. So, almost everything that moves on that particular vehicle is coming out of some of the work that I’m doing with one of our vendors to deliver for that mission.
JM: It took the better part of a year for Curiosity’s to arrive at the Red Planet.
KB: Earth from the sun is what we call one astronomic unit, an AU, and an astronomic unit is approximately 93 million miles. Mars from the sun is 1.5 AU, or from Earth to Mars 0.5 AU. Now that’s approximately the average distance that Mars is from the Earth during a period of time. That’s why we usually, if we’re going to launch something to Mars, it’s always about every two years, because that’s when Earth and Mars are going to be the closest. Even when they’re the closest that they can be, we’re boogying through space at hundreds of thousands of miles per hour, but it still takes us seven months to get there.
JM: When we send astronauts to Mars, the trip will be closer to 2 years. Unlike robots, humans can’t withstand the violent shaking of travel at such rapid speeds.
Kobie Boykins is a participant in the Kids’ Science Challenge, our free nationwide competition for 3rd to 6th graders, made possible by the National Science Foundation. Check out kidsciencechallenge.com.