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Mars mission piques local interest

2012/08/04 18:07:58

Taipei, Aug. 4 (CNA) A live broadcast of a new U.S. Mars landing next week has drawn what the Taipei Astronomical Museum described Saturday as a "huge response" from the Taiwan public, with numerous questions about the red planet being raised.

More than 60 percent of the 300 seats for the screening of the landing of "Curiosity" were taken, the museum said, referring to the NASA rover designed to detect evidence of past and present habitable environments on Mars.

The museum said the 1.5-hour screening -- which will comprise a series of lectures, celebratory activities and finally the touchdown process that will last for only seven minutes -- could be a whole new experience for local people.

Part of the reason for this, according to project organizer Lin Chih-feng, is that the audience will actually be able to interact with NASA scientists during the mission.

The museum also screened similar live broadcasts during the landing of NASA's twin rovers "Spirit" and "Opportunity" in 2003, Lin said, but the format was much simpler.

Lin said that even though Taiwan is not a major player in the space field, it is important that the public can take part and celebrate the exciting moment in human history.

The craft, which weighs only 899 kg, will have to survive "seven minutes of terror" before it lands.

According to NASA, Curiosity must hit the Mars atmosphere at just the right angle, endure extreme heat from friction as it descends through the atmosphere, and lock itself in place precisely after deploying a parachute.

Environmental variables including dust storms, loose sand and wind gusts could all make the landing even more nail-biting, NASA said.

The US$2.5 billion unmanned project, though, has raised the public's curiosity around the world, and Taiwan is no exception.

The museum said that one week after it announced the live broadcast event, it had received more than 100 questions, most of which focused on the similarities between Mars and Earth.

"Some of the questions are very realistic, while others are more a result of people's fantasies about Mars," he said. "They are all good questions because honestly, no one knows the answers for sure."

The live broadcast will be aired on local TV station TVBS from 12:30-2 p.m. Aug. 6.

(By Lee Hsin-Yin)