NASA's Curiosity Rover Makes Historic Landing On Mars



PASADENA - The NASA Curiosity robotic exploration vehicle successfully landed on Mars early on Monday morning at 5:30 a.m. GMT, a historic event that prompted relief and excitement within the scientific community. The Curiosity rover will spend the next two years looking for traces of life on the red planet.

No photo or it didn't happen? Well lookee here, I'm casting a shadow on the ground in Mars' Gale crater #MSL twitter.com/MarsCuriosity/…

— Curiosity Rover (@MarsCuriosity) August 6, 2012

The Associated Press reports that mission controllers at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California cheered and applauded when they received confirmation that the small car-sized robot had successfully touched down (watch the video below to see the harrowing wait, followed by an explosion of joy at the 3mn mark). NASA has landed only seven vehicles on Mars, and the complex attempts often fail.

Curiosity is equipped with an array of tools - including a power drill, a laser that zaps rocks and a chemical laboratory - to analyze Martian rock and soil samples and determine whether they contain the basic chemical ingredients of life, such as carbon or nitrogen.

The landing followed a complex sequence detailed below by NASA. After eight months of space travel over 566 million kilometers, Curiosity used a combination of a protective capsule, a supersonic parachute, a jet-powered backpack and a never-before-used "sky crane" to slow down its initial entry speed of 13,000 miles per hour and land in the Gale crater basin, Reuters reports. The Gale crater was picked because it showed signs of past water.

The landing is good news for the space agency, which spent $2.5 billion on the rover but is still debating whether it can afford another Mars landing after new budget cuts.

Curiosity has a dedicated Twitter feed for regular updates on the mission. The first color photographs are expected in the next few days.

It once was one small step... now it's six big wheels. Here's a look at one of them on the soil of Mars #MSL twitter.com/MarsCuriosity/…

— Curiosity Rover (@MarsCuriosity) August 6, 2012

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In Argentina, A Visit To World's Highest Solar Energy Park

With loans and solar panels from China, the massive solar park has been opened a year and is already powering the surrounding areas. Now the Chinese supplier is pushing for an expansion.

960,000 solar panels have been installed at the Cauchari park

Silvia Naishtat

— Driving across the border with Chile into the northwest Argentine department of Susques, you may spot what looks like a black mass in the distance. Arriving at a 4,000-meter altitude in the municipality of Cauchari, what comes into view instead is an assembly of 960,000 solar panels. It is the world's highest photovoltaic (PV) park, which is also the second biggest solar energy facility in Latin America, after Mexico's Aguascalientes plant.

Spread over 800 hectares in an arid landscape, the Cauchari park has been operating for a year, and has so far turned sunshine into 315 megawatts of electricity, enough to power the local provincial capital of Jujuy through the national grid.

It has also generated some $50 million for the province, which Governor Gerardo Morales has allocated to building 239 schools.

Abundant sunshine, low temperatures

The physicist Martín Albornoz says Cauchari, which means "link to the sun," is exposed to the best solar radiation anywhere. The area has 260 days of sunshine, with no smog and relatively low temperatures, which helps keep the panels in optimal conditions.

Its construction began with a loan of more than $331 million from China's Eximbank, which allowed the purchase of panels made in Shanghai. They arrived in Buenos Aires in 2,500 containers and were later trucked a considerable distance to the site in Cauchari . This was a titanic project that required 1,200 builders and 10-ton cranes, but will save some 780,000 tons of CO2 emissions a year.

It is now run by 60 technicians. Its panels, with a 25-year guarantee, follow the sun's path and are cleaned twice a year. The plant is expected to have a service life of 40 years. Its choice of location was based on power lines traced in the 1990s to export power to Chile, now fed by the park.

Chinese engineers working in an office at the Cauchari park


Chinese want to expand

The plant belongs to the public-sector firm Jemse (Jujuy Energía y Minería), created in 2011 by the province's then governor Eduardo Fellner. Jemse's president, Felipe Albornoz, says that once Chinese credits are repaid in 20 years, Cauchari will earn the province $600 million.

The Argentine Energy ministry must now decide on the park's proposed expansion. The Chinese would pay in $200 million, which will help install 400,000 additional panels and generate enough power for the entire province of Jujuy.

The park's CEO, Guillermo Hoerth, observes that state policies are key to turning Jujuy into a green province. "We must change the production model. The world is rapidly cutting fossil fuel emissions. This is a great opportunity," Hoerth says.

The province's energy chief, Mario Pizarro, says in turn that Susques and three other provincial districts are already self-sufficient with clean energy, and three other districts would soon follow.

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