NASA tests next-generation Mars rover in a space-simulation chamber

NASA is testing its next-generation Mars rover, which will land on Mars next year, under extreme conditions at space-simulation chamber in California. Scientists at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena have installed the Curiosity rover in a space-simulation chamber that can mimic the environment the probe will encounter on Mars. After the chamber’s large door was sealed last week, air was pumped out to near-vacuum pressure, liquid nitrogen in the walls dropped the temperature to minus 130 degrees Celsius, and a bank of powerful lamps simulated the intensity of sunshine on Mars. Curiosity will study whether a selected area of Mars has offered environmental conditions favorable for microbial life and for preserving evidence about whether Martian life has existed.

After the test period, the rover along with other portions of NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory spacecraft including the cruise stage, descent stage and backshell — part of protective covering — will be shipped to the Kennedy Space Center for final preparation for the launch window from Nov. 25 to Dec. 18, 2011.