Curiosity, NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) mission robot, has completed exactly one Martian year on June 24th, which translates into 687 Earth days. On August 6th Curiosity will have completed 2 Earth years since it first landed in 2012. During April and May this year the Curiosity rover took a large amount of pictures with its arm-mounted MAHLI camera, which it later combined into a self-portrait on a Martian mission site called “Windjana” where it performed drilling and soil sampling.
Scientists say the main goal of the MSL mission has been accomplished, they have successfully determined that the Red Planet had once the proper environment to support microbial life, after analysis of rocks sampled by Curiosity from the Martian Gale Crater. While this is not an actual proof that complex life actually existed on Mars at some point, it revealed the fact that proper conditions, like mild water, life elemental ingredients and chemical energy source, where once available.
Thanks to the Curiosity rover the MSL mission had a series of accomplishments in the Martian year that has passed. Radiation measurements were performed during flight and at the surface of the planet, to help design suits for future manned missions. Analyses of the Martian atmosphere were performed to better understand how Mars lost so much of it, and age determinations of rocks were also performed.
Curiosity stopped at the “Windjana” site in April this year, to collect soil samples. David Blake, main investigator for Curiosity’s Chemistry and Mineralogy (CheMin) spectrometer, says that this site is important for the mission as it could provide better understanding on the degree of habitability and the environment that Mars once had. The rover resumed its route in May this year, and has travelled 7,9 kilometers (4.9 miles) from its landing site so far.
In the second Martian year Curiosity aims at arriving at “Mount Sharp”, another key mission location, where scientists hope to find data that will help them to better understand what they have learned so far. The entry point to the mountain is about 3,9 kilometers, about 2.4 miles, away from Curiosity’s current location. The mission team had to revise for a long but less challenging travel path in late 2013, when the Curiosity rover had suffered a damage at one of its wheels, caused by a sharp rock embedded in the Martian surface.
- Mars Science Laboratory website, Latest news and data about the MSL
- Mars Science Laboratory, NASA mission page
- NASA MSL Multimedia archive, Pictures of the MSL and latest pictures sent back by Curiosity
- Instruments onboard Curiosity, JPL
- Curiosity rover, Wikipedia
- Mars Science Laboratory, Wikipedia
- Malin Space Science Systems, Details about instruments onboard Curiosity – MastCam, MAHLI, MARDI and MMM DEA interface
- MSL Curiosity animation, YouTube
- Artificial objects on Mars, Wikipedia