With Mars One shortlisting its future settlers to 100 remaining candidates, and Orion improving the designs of its spacecraft, one gets caught up in all the hubbub surrounding Mars exploration. But as of this moment, only one solitary presence actually moves around the Red Planet – the Curiosity Rover.
Gathering samples and acting as a mobile laboratory as well as robotic explorer, the Curiosity Rover is essential to future Mars missions. But where exactly is it now and what has it been doing since it finally touched down on Martian soil on Aug 5, 2012?
The Curiosity Rover is part of the Mars Science Laboratory mission under NASA’s Mars Exploration Program. It is currently the “youngest” rover and one of two currently operating (the other called Opportunity) in mankind’s exploration of Mars. It is meant to drive around the planet, drill holes in its soil, gather and analyze samples, as well as provide us with up-close-and-personal images of Mars.
Ultimately, we want to know if Mars is habitable, and if it can support life like that found on Earth. Curiosity, however, starts small. It looks into the possibility of survival for microbes or small organisms first and checks for the chemical building blocks of life, which will hopefully show that Mars was once host to a living environment.
And it seems, based on NASA’s reports, that Curiosity has been doing all these tasks smoothly, without encountering any major issues during its exploration. The rover has been on Mars for 905 sols, or Martian days, equivalent to roughly 929 Earth days (The Martian to Earth day conversion is 1.0274912510 days/sol). In that time, it has already made several significant discoveries – for example, the presence of essential elements to sustain life, clay minerals with little salt, that suggest that water was once present on Mars, as well as the discovery of an ancient stream or lakebed.
As of today, the rover is continuing to explore Mars’ extremely diverse landscape. Fortunately, Curiosity has been designed to survive this terrain because of its ability to roll over structures up to 75 centimeters high and drive for up to 90 meters per hour. Its next target is what is now called “Telegraph Peak”, presumably named after the formation in California. Telegraph Peak is only one of the many land masses that Curiosity will drill into and gain samples from.
Its location on Telegraph peak will also allow Curiosity to use two of its cameras, Mast Camera or Mastcam, and Chemistry and Camera complex or Chemcam, to observe other surrounding formations named “Brazer” and “Craxy Hollow.”
With a $2.5 billion budget for the Curiosity rover to get to Mars, it has exceeded expectations by lasting beyond the one Martian year (or 687 Earth days) required of it. But NASA will not terminate this mission just yet. On the other hand, it will be using Curiosity to its full potential. So expect even more exciting curiosities and discoveries as it continues to explore Mars this year.
Curiosity’s Location on Martian Day 901