Measure Twice, Launch Once
23 August 2011
Without NASA's planetary missions we wouldn't be in orbit at both asteroid Vesta and planet Mercury. We wouldn't see stunning close-up images of comet nuclei. We would not know that there is evidence for water on Mars, nor that Enceladus' ice-shooting "Tiger Stripes" provide the water found in Saturn's upper atmosphere. Nor would we know that possibly at the edge of our solar system there are gigantic magnetic bubbles.
This is a busy year for NASA -- one of its busiest. There are several missions launching and many which are currently in flight or in development/production. Every mission takes several steps and many people to prepare it for flight in space. And each step is important for the success and successful science return of a mission.
For example, takes the case of NASA's Mars Science Laboratory's rover, Curiosity, which will launch on 25 November. It has been a long process: from the proposal stage, back in 2003; to design, beginning in 2004; to the construction of the spacecraft's parts following about 12 to 18 months later. The various components are now being tested at the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) and it won't be until next month, when Curiosity is enclosed in its aeroshell, will engineers and technicians stop tinkering with the newest Mars rover on the block.
With careful planning and execution NASA returns to us great data and images of places seen and visited by spacecraft. See below for images that demonstrate the testing and planning that goes into building these far-traveling explorers. (13 images total)