Curiosity marks a year on Mars
Posted August 5, 2013
Tuesday marks the first (Earth) year for NASA's Curiosity rover exploration of Mars. The mission began with a key accomplishment: landing the one-ton robot the size of a small SUV in one piece and doing it all on auto-pilot.
The mission's primary science goal has also been accomplished: uncovering evidence that Mars could have once supported life. Other critical scientific discoveries have been made as well:
- Radiation and the health risk it poses to humans will be a significant challenge for any crew sent to Mars. Curiosity absorbed more radiation before even landing than NASA allows to any human astronaut over an entire career.
- Clay minerals found inside rocks drilled by Curiosity along with smooth, rounded pebbles indicate that fresh water once flowed steadily there, probably about a foot deep.
- The diversity of soil and rock types found near Curiosity's landing site was much greater than expected.
- Key elements found near the landing site indicate that the chemistry to support microbial life may have existed on ancient Mars.
It seems appropriate to tell the story of this mission through its numbers:
2 - active rovers on Mars, Curiosity and Opportunity. Curiosity is halfway through its two-year primary mission; Opportunity has lasted more than 36 times its primary mission.
3 miles - height of Mount Sharp, the mountain in the center of the 96-mile wide Gale Crater that Curiosity will soon be scaling
7 mph - top daily speed of the rover. Average has been 1.3 mph
10° F - last reported daily high temperature. The low was -103° F.
20 minutes - time required to transmit commands to the rovers and for data to be transmitted back over the 222 million miles separating Earth and Mars.
190+ Gigabytes of data returned to date
344 feet - longest daily drive, for over two hours, on July 21. Shortest daily drive was just over two feet and took less than a minute on January 8, 2013.
365 sols - Martian days that have passed since Curiosity landed
75,000+ laser shots fired at over 2,000 targets
3.6 billion years - age of Gale Crater
After months of exploring the area close to the landing site, Curiosity is on the move. Nearly half of the distance added to the rover's odometer was covered in the past month. Curiosity is heading for Mount Sharp where it will spend the second year of its primary mission studying the geology of the layers that make up the mountain.
NASA TV will air memories of the dramatic landing night from Curiosity team members with updates on the mission's progress from 10:45 a.m. to noon on Tuesday. A live public event will follow from NASA Headquarters in Washington featuring NASA officials and crew members aboard the International Space Station who will describe how robotic projects are helping prepare for a human mission to Mars and an asteroid.
Tony Rice is a volunteer in the NASA/JPL Solar System Ambassador program and software engineer at Cisco Systems. You can follow him on twitter @rtphokie.