back to article Nuclear Mars tank prepares for 8-thruster dance

The Mars Science Laboratory, the "nuclear-powered robot laser tank" carrying NASA's shiny new rover, Curiosity, is due to fire its engine in two days' time for the biggest manoeuvre on its trip to the Red Planet. Artist's concept of MSL during cruise phase Artist's concept of MSL during cruise phase. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech …


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  1. Flocke Kroes Silver badge

    Send in the cryptoendoliths

    Instead of sterilising our martian invasion scouts, why not send in some plants that might survive there. A million years later, there could be a measurable amount of oxygen in the martian atmosphere.

    1. Anonymous Coward

      Ah, the Prime Directive really gets in the way doesn't it?

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Ah, wait, we just sent them a "nuclear powered laser tank". Hmmmm.

        1. Sceptic Tank Silver badge
          Paris Hilton


          I'm no scientist type man, but with the atmosphere on Mars being paper thin and all, the whole place is probably as radioactive as Chernobyl after the last set of experiments. Anything living there will be so used to harsh radiation already that a nuke falling from the sky will look like a gift from the gods.

    2. Scogar

      Well, they have already done that with a few of the other landers... oops, it seems mariner 10 did not get a decon treatment at all. If there were anaerobic bacteria on Mariner 10, then undoubtedly they are multiplying and flourishing in an unchallenged environment (beneath the rocks, the harsh ultraviolet and assorted other radiation will pretty much sterilize anything exposed to the sun)

      1. ridley

        Mariner 10 did not land on any planet. It flew past Venus and Mercury. So I doubt it left any bugs there.

  2. The Man Who Fell To Earth Silver badge

    They didn't sterilize it very well. I'm using it to hitch a ride back home.

    1. Evil Auditor Silver badge

      @the fallen

      By any chance, is A Man From Mars with you? One can only hope ;-)

  3. ravenviz Silver badge

    There's hope for us non-boffins yet

    "onboard celestial navigation system, which was accidentally reset"


  4. Annihilator

    "Artist's concept"

    Pretty awful artist if he doesn't understand shadows properly. Maybe I'm just overly critical but the first thing I thought when viewing that picture was "the Sun's in the wrong place"...

  5. Peter Simpson 1

    Metric vs Imperial units?

    We made sure to use the same units throughout the project this time, didn't we?

    Are we sure?

    Last chance to double check...

  6. Andus McCoatover

    "The laboratory itself was cleaned to protect Mars from Earth's microbes"...

    ..which is possibly why the failure of Phobos-Grunt wasn't so bad.

    Who would disinfect it from bringing martian microbes back here?

    Orson Welles, get your pen out again.

    1. hayseed

      H. G. Wells wrote, Orson Welles did a broadcast

      The two talented Well(e)s had different talents.

  7. Scogar

    If this one has solar panels, I hope they though enough this time to add a "fan" attachment to the robotic arm for cell cleaning... (DOH! They included a "RAT" with a spinning blade, but didn't even think about a device to blow the dust off the panels, However, their mission was only supposed to be 3 months, so they didn't percieve the need.)

    1. Pet Peeve

      Just how much good do you think a fan will do at substantially less than 1% of earth's atmospheric pressure?

      It's not an easy problem to solve, which is why they haven't entirely solved it. There's coatings to make a less sticky surface, but even a little static charge is enough to make the stuff stick harder than can easily be removed.

    2. Richard 12 Silver badge

      Solar panels are for sissies.

      This one is a nuclear-powered LASER-armed tank of a machine.

      More seriously, dust buildup on the solar panels of Spirit and Opportunity wasn't expected to be an issue because there's only a lot of dust during the stormy season, which was well after the original mission was expected to have finished.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      No solar

      This times it's a nuclear powered tank (see article title) so no winter hols..

  8. Simon Palmer

    That's slow

    Gonna take a long time at 12.3 miles an hour!

    1. Sceptic Tank Silver badge

      Ah, but didn't you read the email? Mars is going to be so close to the earth next month that it will appear larger than Ballmer's bald head under a magnifying glass. 12.3mph is plenty of speed - we just have to wait for Mars to swing past.

  9. Bob Wheeler

    "onboard celestial navigation system, which was accidentally reset"

    TomTom in space?

    1. K. Adams


      "In 1.393 million kilometers, take exit Beta, on left, toward Mars..."

      "Continue for 146.240 million kilometers..."

      1. Timmay

        "Continue for 146.240 million kilometers..."

        That's what it seems like when driving south from Scotland - you drive for what seems like an eternity and then you find you're only at f$£king Darlington, and the sign still says "London - 250 miles"... d'oh!

        1. James Hughes 1

          250miles seems like a perfectly adequate distance to me.

          1. Timmay

            Not when you've already driven for the best part of 3 hours.

            As a southerner who rarely drives north, I'm used to seeing signs like "Leeds and The NORTH", not "Newcastle-upon-Tyne and The SOUTH"!

            1. Evil Auditor Silver badge


              Yes, but why would you go there? It's Grim Up North.

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Wuss. Try I70 from KC to Denver...

          You drive across Kansas (400mi). The last 200mi are some of the most boring you'll ever encounter. You start seeing the signs for the border (Kandorado: 100mi) and start to rejoyce: Colorado - mountains! Scenery!

          Then you hit the border and the realization that eastern Colorado is very much like western Kansas until you get to Denver, and you have 200 miles to go, and you despair.

          And I won't even talk about driving to Los Angles - "Take I35. Turn right onto I40 at OKC. Drive for 1300 miles."

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I wonder

    I wonder if the descent will be filmed at all.

    I hope so.

    1. It wasnt me

      I expect so

      Isn't it all just on a mocked-up set in nevada?



  11. Graham Bartlett

    Hope there's no feline humanoids on Mars

    After all, we know what Curiosity does to cats. (And I know a few down our way which I'd gladly sic a nuclear-powered laser tank on...)

  12. greensun

    12.3 mph ??

    Yew shure ?

    1. Annihilator

      Key phrase

      "increase by". They're piddly little directional thrusters really, designed to subtly alter the trajectory by a fraction of a degree, not speed it up significantly.

      Bear in mind it's already hurtling towards Mars at ridiculous speeds.

  13. Alan Brown Silver badge

    ridiculous speed

    Shouldn't that be stupendous speed? :)

    Regarding fans or brushes to clear the solar panels, I've always been of the opinion that anything which looks like a giant cockroach ought to be able to raise the panels to vertical and shake 'em, like the real thing can do to get rid of dust buildup.

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