Yesterday, at 3:30pm AEST, NASA successfully landed the Curiosity Rover on Mars! I was watching the live broadcast from the NASA control room and was very excited to hear that the landing was a success (although apparently not as excited as the NASA engineers, who were jumping around, hugging each other and crying).
Yesterday’s landing was the culmination of nearly 10 years worth of work.
And just to prove that the landing was actually a success, the Curiosity rover sent back its first images of the Mars surface.
The job of the Curiosity rover is now to look for signs that Mars may have been inhabitable for life in the past.
Curiosity’s chief project scientists, John Grotzinger, said of the mission: “We’re not looking for life. We don’t have the ability to detect life if it was there. We are looking for the ingredients of life.”
Here’s a great blog piece by astronomer and journalist Stuart Clarke from The Guardian about why Curiosity isn’t directly looking for life.
The Curiosity Rover is carrying with it a small laboratory, which will enable it to conduct analyses on the samples it collects. It is equipped with tools to brush and drill into rocks, to scoop up, sort and sieve samples. Samples can then be analysed in order to discern their chemistry. Curiosity even carries a laser to zap rocks for analysis.
- (A) Curiosity will trundle around its landing site looking for interesting rock features to study. Its top speed is about 4cm/s
- (B) This mission has 17 cameras. They will identify particular targets, and a laser will zap those rocks to probe their chemistry
- (C) If the signal is significant, Curiosity will swing over instruments on its arm for close-up investigation. These include a microscope
- (D) Samples drilled from rock, or scooped from the soil, can be delivered to two hi-tech analysis labs inside the rover body
- (E) The results are sent to Earth through antennas on the rover deck. Return commands tell the rover where it should drive next
If you have a twitter account, you can get updates about the mission by following the “Curiosity Rover” on twitter.