In the Payload Hazardous Servicing Facility at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida, the fairing acoustic protection (FAP) system lining the inside of the Atlas V payload fairing for NASA's Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) mission is visible after the fairing is uncovered during preparations to clean it to meet NASA's planetary protection requirements. The FAP protects the payload by dampening the sound created by the rocket during liftoff.
The fairing will protect the spacecraft from the impact of aerodynamic pressure and heating during ascent. Although jettisoned once the spacecraft is outside the Earth's atmosphere, the fairing must be cleaned to the same exacting standards as the laboratory to avoid the possibility of contaminating it. MSL's components include a compact car-sized rover, Curiosity, which has 10 science instruments designed to search for evidence on whether Mars has had environments favorable to microbial life, including the chemical ingredients for life. The unique rover will use a laser to look inside rocks and release its gasses so that the rover’s spectrometer can analyze and send the data back to Earth. Launch of MSL aboard a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket is planned for Nov. 25 from Space Launch Complex 41 on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. For more information, visit http://www.nasa.gov/msl. Photo credit: NASA/Kim Shiflett