NASA’s Mars Curiosity rover, an integral part of the Mars mission that touched the surface of Mars in August 2012, will be completing its record year on the planet – in Mars local time – today; the same period being equivalent to about two years on Earth – 687 days to be exact. While many are celebrating the one year anniversary of the rover on Mars, some are asking: is it all worthwhile?
A year on Mars is 320 days longer than a year on Earth due to Mars’ longer revolution period around the sun. Curiosity, a 2,000 pound rover that can travel up to 90 miles per hour on its six-wheeled carrier, started its journey from Cape Canaveral, Florida on November 26, 2011. It successfully completed its eight month journey to land on Aeolis Palus, a place on Mars named by NASA’s scientists, on August 6, 2012.
It took 253 days for the rover to traverse the interplanetary trip of 352 million miles. NASA’s rover Curiosity is the fourth successful rover placed on Mars and the most popular mission so far in NASA’s history after the Apollo mission of 1969.
The major goals and tasks assigned to the Curiosity rover include a thorough investigation of the climate and geology on Mars’ surface over as wide an area as possible; determining whether the chosen field site of Gale Crater has been hospitable for microbial life or not; finding out whether the planet has presence of water; and also to carry out detailed studies as a part of preparation for human exploration in the future. Those asking if it is all worthwhile may be happy to know that one day, humans may actually set foot on the surface of Mars.
The overall objectives of this mission has been divided into four broad aspects: the biological aspect in which the rover has to search for the presence of life-building chemical compounds on the planet’s surface; the geological aspect which includes analyzing how the rocks and soils of the planet have been formed; the planetary aspect in which the Mars Rover has to determine the stages in evolution of the atmosphere on Mars; and the final aspect which will determine the level of surface radiation and its impact on sustainability of human life. Earlier the mission was planned for a limited period of time, but seeing the level of work required, an indefinite extension to the mission was announced in December 2012.
The complete mission costs more than 2.5 billion dollars and is estimated to cost much more in the coming years. So far the achievements of the rover have included finding the location of an ancient riverbed and sampling two mud stone slabs in the Martian Gale Crater.
NASA’s Mars Curiosity Rover’s two year (one Martian year) stint has also revealed the presence of a lake bed on the surface of the red planet, giving slight indications that Mars may have once hosted life. Seeing the mammoth investment in terms of human resources, capital, technology and the achievements so far, asking if the mission is worthwhile would probably be answered with a resounding yes from everyone involved in the project. Scientists and the public alike hope there is much more excitement to come from this “little engine that could”—NASA’s Mars Curiosity Rover.
By: Rebecca Savastio