NASA's Curiosity Mars Rover Marking First Anniversary

By Todd R. Weiss  |  Posted 2013-08-05 Print this article Print
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The Mount Sharp destination, which is in the middle of what's known as Gale Crater, is important to scientists working on the mission because it exposes many layers where scientists anticipate finding evidence about how the ancient Martian environment changed and evolved, according to the JPL.

The rover is expected to take nine months to a year to reach Mount Sharp, due to the care that must be used in crossing the unknown terrain. Since landing on Mars on Aug. 6, 2012, the rover has been undergoing testing, software updates and initial experiments on soil samples on the surface of the planet.

At the end of June, it conducted a close-up investigation of a target sedimentary outcrop of rock called Shaler, according to NASA, then began heading away from Shaler on July 4. The vehicle travels very slowly, initially traveling 59 feet away from Shaler that day, then adding another 131-foot excursion away from the site on July 7. Both trips put the rover on a course heading to Mount Sharp, which sits about 5 miles away, NASA reported.

In June, NASA released a spectacular 1.3 billion-pixel image of the surface of Mars, which was stitched together from almost 900 images taken by special cameras mounted on the Curiosity rover. The image can be explored using panning and scanning tools on NASA's Website.

"The full-circle scene surrounds the site where Curiosity collected its first scoops of dusty sand at a windblown patch called 'Rocknest,' and extends to Mount Sharp on the horizon," according to NASA.

The images used to create the massive photograph include some 850 frames taken using the telephoto camera of Curiosity's Mast Camera instrument, supplemented with 21 frames from the Mastcam's wider-angle camera and 25 black-and-white frames from the on-board Navigation Camera, according to NASA. The images were taken from October to November in 2012.

Much of the science world has been abuzz with excitement since Curiosity's landing.

Curiosity successfully fired its rock-melting laser for the first time on Aug. 19, 2012, as it ran through tests to be sure that the work of its science experiments will be able to proceed as planned. The rover has been taking spectacular photographs on Mars since arriving after a 354-million-mile, eight-month voyage from Earth.

One of Curiosity's main tasks on Mars is checking for organic compounds, the carbon-containing chemicals that can be ingredients for life, according to NASA.

Even as the Curiosity rover continues its exploration of Mars, NASA is already planning another scientific rover mission to the red planet, set for 2020, according to an earlier eWEEK report. NASA's continuing exploration of Mars with scientific rovers on the red planet's surface will continue into 2020, when the space agency plans to launch another robotic science rover based on its successful Curiosity rover as part of a "robust multi-year program" aimed at preparing the nation's space program to send humans to a Mars orbit by the 2030s.

The 2020 Mars rover program, which has not yet been named, would reuse designs, parts and technology from the current Curiosity rover. By reusing Curiosity's successful blueprints, the space agency expects to save a lot of money in development costs, while continuing its exploration of the planet.

Full details of what that 2020 Mars mission will entail have not yet been determined. The specific payload and science instruments for the mission will be debated and selected later through an open competition after the scientific objectives for the mission have been formulated, according to NASA. The mission will also be contingent on receiving adequate funding.


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