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Air Force has role in Mars Rover success

A 1/30-scale model of the aeroshell configuration for the Mars Science Laboratory underwent aerodynamic atmospheric descent testing at AEDC's Hypervelocity Wind Tunnel 9 Facility. (AEDC photo)

A 1/30-scale model of the aeroshell configuration for the Mars Science Laboratory underwent aerodynamic atmospheric descent testing at AEDC's Hypervelocity Wind Tunnel 9 Facility. (AEDC photo)

ARNOLD AIR FORCE BASE, Tenn. (AFNS) -- As news broke of NASA's Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) "Curiosity" rover's successful landing on the "Red Planet" Aug. 6, Arnold Engineering Development Complex's (AEDC) Hypervelocity Tunnel 9 Director Dan Marren was watching the live TV broadcast of the event.

"Last night, after eight months of high-speed flight, while you slept, NASA successfully landed the rover Curiosity on Mars," Marren said. "What I find refreshing is that for our part, there is an interesting story.

"Much of the success of the "7 minutes of terror" - that most challenging part NASA refers to from re-entry to touchdown - is directly related to sub-systems AEDC helped develop and validate. A solid heat shield and a proper deceleration parachute were crucial to putting the rover down safely. What is even more rewarding to me is that our capabilities designed many years ago for the original space race and strategic systems were so useful today enabling discovery and the natural curiosity of the human race."

"Curiosity" is the most highly advanced, mobile robot with the heaviest overall payload ever sent to another planet to investigate Mars' ability, both past and present, to sustain microbial life.

AEDC's role in supporting the MSL program has included evaluating the aerothermal loading of the heat shield at the complex's Hypervelocity Tunnel 9 facility in Silver Spring, Md., and assessing thermal protection system material candidates for the MSL's heat shield at the complex's central location in Tennessee. In addition, NASA and AEDC's engineers tested the MSL's full-sized parachute in the world's largest wind tunnel at National Full-Scale Aerodynamic Complex (NFAC) in California.