NASA’s Curiosity Rover landed on Mars one year ago and is still going strong in its exploration of the planet’s surface. The rover is a six-wheeled, nuclear-powered wonder that uses autonomous navigation software, when not controlled by earth based operators. It has the capability of guiding itself on various paths within a programmed designated safe zone.
The $2.5 billion project has made phenomenal discoveries in its time on the Red Planet. Research of the Red Planet’s habitability in ancient times was just one of the project’s proposed studies. Research began on touch-down around August 5th or 6th 2012 with the rover sending back more than 190 gigabits of data.
“What we found was surprisingly good, and surprisingly in line with the mission’s objective of looking for habitable environments in early Mars history,” Ashwin Vasavada, deputy project scientist for the Mars Science Laboratory mission. “The complication is that we underestimated the time it took to do these tasks with the rover by a large fraction – maybe by a factor of two.”
NASA’s SUV-sized Curiosity rover is still going strong a year later on the surface of Mars. Its prime destination is a 3-mile-high mountain called Aeolis Mons (Mount Sharp). Curiosity has fired about 75,000 laser shots to study the make-up of rocks and soil. Photos have been taken of 70,000 images of mars for research by earth based scientists.
“Successes of our Curiosity — that dramatic touchdown a year ago and the science findings since then – advance us toward further exploration, including sending humans to an asteroid and Mars,” NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said. “Wheel tracks now will lead to boot prints later.” The optimism is building for manned exploration trips to mars and beyond for future space missions.
Curiosity has traveled almost a mile over the Martian surface within the past year. Within the coming year it’s scheduled to travel five times as far. The original mission of the rover was that of a two year exploration trek. Project leaders have since extended the initiative indefinitely due to the success of this year’s findings.
Curiosity has waypoints designated for research on its travel to its main destination. “Each waypoint represents an opportunity for Curiosity to pause during its long journey to Mount Sharp and study features of local interest,” said Caltech’s John Grotzinger, the mission’s project scientist. “These features are geologically interesting, based on HiRISE images, and they lie very close to the path that provides the most expeditious route to the base of Mount Sharp. We’ll study each for several sols, perhaps selecting one for drilling if it looks sufficiently interesting.”
NASA’s Curiosity rover is still going strong on Mars and many believe that doors will be opened for further future explorations. “We could let it drive into the unknown, over as many days as we’re willing to let it go,” said Mark Maimone, rover mobility engineer and rover driver at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
By Thomas Barr