On 6 August, the Curiosity rover (a.k.a Mars Science Laboratory), the latest of NASA’s Mars Exploration Program, successfully completed the 7 minutes of terror and landed safely on the surface Mars. Curiosity landed in the Gale Crater, a meteorite crater formed about 3.6 billion years ago which shows a number of signs indicating that water was present over its history – and water is key to life as we know it. The main science goal of the Curiosity mission is to determine whether the landing site ever had (or still has) an environment capable of supporting microbial life, i.e. whether Mars was ever habitable.
Curiosity will conduct a range of experiments to meet its 9 mission objectives, which include biological, geological and geochemical, planetary process, and surface radiation objectives. The rover is big – about the size of a small car, 2.2 m high and weighing 900 kg. (Curiosity is about 2 times the size of the Mars Exploration Rovers Spirit & Opportunity and 5 times heavier.) Curiosity has a large suite of instruments, including cameras, spectrometers, radiation detectors, environmental and atmospheric senors.
Curiosity has successfully conducted it first test drive on 22 August 2012 and has been confirmed to be in a safe state to move beyond the landing site.
Just 22 days after landing, on 28 August 2012 Curiosity began its eastward trek to its first science destination about 400 m away, thus commencing the surface operations phase, which will involve Curiosity conducting scientific experiment in Gale crater. The primary mission of the Mars Science Laboratory is one Martian year (which is 687 Earth days). During this time it will travel between 5 and 20 km from the landing site and collect, grind and analyse about 70 rock and soil samples. Curiosity will slowly make its way to Mount Sharp, the base of which is about 10 km away.
For more information, follow these links:
- Mars Science Laboratory, the Curiosity homepage
- Mars Science Laboratory, NASA’s next Mars rover
- The Curiosity landing, NASA video of the 6 August 2012 landing
- First Test Drive, NASA video of Curiosity first test drive celebration
- Curiosity begins in eastbound trek, NASA press release