IS THERE LIFE on Mars? So far, the answer appears to be a resounding no, but we do have one robotic ‘lifeform’ there: the Curiosity rover.
Today marks one year of NASA’S Curiosity rover on Mars, and the space organisation says that the mobile laboratory has already achieved its main science goal of revealing ancient Mars could have supported life.
“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,” said NASA administrator Charles Bolden.
Wheel tracks now, will lead to boot prints later.
The rover’s successful landing in a crater on Mars on 6 August 2012 was watched by millions of people worldwide.
Since that date, NASA said Curiosity has:
provided more than 190 gigabits of data; returned more than 36,700 full images and 35,000 thumbnail images; fired more than 75,000 laser shots to investigate the composition of targets; collected and analyzed sample material from two rocks; and driven more than one mile (1.6 kilometres).
Today, Curiosity team members at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in California will share their memories of the landing night and the mission in an event that will air on NASA Television and the agency’s website. The show can be watched online from 2.45 GMT.
From 4pm, to 5.30pm GMT, NASA TV will carry a live public event from NASA headquarters in Washington, which will include NASA officials and crew members aboard the International Space Station.
They will discuss how the rover’s activities and other robotic projects “are helping prepare for a human mission to Mars and an asteroid”.
People are invited to submit questions on Twitter and Google+ in advance and during the event using the hashtag #askNASA.
NASA’s facts about Curiosity:
- It is the size of a car
- It traveled 764 yards (699 metres) in the past four weeks since leaving a group of science targets where it worked for more than six months
- It making its way to the base of Mount Sharp
- When it arrives, it will investigate lower layers of a mountain that rises three miles from the floor of the crater.
- The rover landed about one mile (1.6 kilometres) from the center of that target area.
- Scientists decided first to investigate closer outcrops where the mission quickly found signs of vigorous ancient stream flow.
- These were the first streambed pebble deposits ever examined up close on Mars.
- Evidence of a past environment well suited to support microbial life came within the first eight months of the 23-month primary mission from analysis of the first sample material ever collected by drilling into a rock on Mars.
“We now know Mars offered favorable conditions for microbial life billions of years ago,” said the mission’s project scientist, John Grotzinger of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena.
It has been gratifying to succeed, but that has also whetted our appetites to learn more. We hope those enticing layers at Mount Sharp will preserve a broad diversity of other environmental conditions that could have affected habitability.
NASA said that the mission measured natural radiation levels on the trip to Mars and is monitoring radiation and weather on the surface of the planet, which will be helpful for designing future human missions there.
It also found evidence Mars lost most of its original atmosphere through processes that occurred at the top of the atmosphere.
NASA’s next mission to Mars, Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN), is being prepared for launch in November to study those processes.
To follow the conversation online, use hashtag #1YearOnMars or follow @NASA and @MarsCuriosity on Twitter.