At 1:31 a.m. EDT Monday, 6 August, the world will be holding its collective breath, waiting to hear that NASA's latest and greatest Mars rover has safely landed. Much will be at stake. If Curiosity survives its “Seven Minutes of Terror,” slowing from 21,240 kilometers per hour to a dead stop on the surface, it will demonstrate a brand new and downright scary-looking system for delivering heavy loads precisely where scientists want them. Once on the surface, the biggest, most sophisticated robot ever delivered to another planetary body can take on its primary mission: searching out environments of ancient Mars that life could have inhabited. And not incidentally, Curiosity will be looking for signs that life was indeed around back then. It might even get a whiff of present-day life, if it's there and spewing methane.
Why will Curiosity dangle from its descent rockets? Why is it going to a 5-kilometer-high mound in Gale crater? And how will it "follow the carbon" in its search for past life?
Join us for a live chat at 3 p.m. EDT on Thursday, 2 August, when we talk with two experts on the Curiosity rover and what it might find on Mars. You can leave your questions in the comment box below before the chat starts. The full text of the chat will be archived on this page.
Jim Bell is a professor at Arizona State University and a Curiosity science team member. He has been heavily involved in a half dozen robotic space missions, usually involving a camera. Most recently, he ran the panoramic cameras on the Spirit and Opportunity Mars rovers.
Andrew Steele of is an astrobiologist at the Carnegie Institution's Geophysical Laboratory and a Curiosity science team member. Trained as a microbiologist, he develops life detection techniques to be applied to ancient Earth and extraterrestrial samples.
Devin Kipp is an entry, descent, and landing systems engineer at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory and has spent the past 7 years working on the design, development, testing, and operation of the Mars Science Laboratory spacecraft.