Curiosity Rover Begins Mars Exploration
By Ed Pierce // August 6, 2012
Initial Two-Year Mission
BREVARD COUNTY • CAPE CANAVERAL, FLORIDA – In the early morning hours on Monday, NASA landed the Curiosity rover on the surface of Mars and the robotic creation has begun to transmit images of the red planet back to Earth.
Shortly after 12:32 a.m. here in Florida, the car-sized spacecraft carrying Curiosity touched down on the Martian surface in Gale Crater, a site chosen by scientists for its rich supply of minerals that may have been formed over time by the presence of water.
Within a few minutes after landing, the six-wheeled $2.5 billion Curiosity rover sent stunning images of Mars back to NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California.
This is the seventh time NASA has landed a spacecraft on Mars, as engineers perfectly designed a plan to navigate through the “seven minutes of terror” of maneuvering a spacecraft hurdling at a speed of nearly 13,000 mph through the thin Martina atmosphere.
Once safely on the ground, a series of cables lowered Curiosity, also known as the Mars Scientific Laboratory, to the Martian surface launching its mission on the planet.
In all, Curiosity traveled more than 352 million miles to reach Mars and it took eight months to arrive at the red planet.
NASA Chief Charles Bolden hailed the accomplishment.
“We’re on Mars again,” Bolden said. “It’s just absolutely incredible. It doesn’t get any better than this. Today, the wheels of Curiosity have begun to blaze the trail for human footprints on Mars. Curiosity, the most sophisticated rover ever built, is now on the surface of the Red Planet, where it will seek to answer age-old questions about whether life ever existed on Mars — or if the planet can sustain life in the future.”
In exploring the Martian surface for the next two years, the rover will transverse a mountain rising from Gale Crater, examine Martian rocks and probe the soil to check for signs of water.
If Curiosity does find traces of past water supplies on Mars, it would be heralded as a significant scientific breakthrough, confirming the possibility that tiny microcosyms or bacteria may have once existed there in Martian water. Although it cannot detect any microcosyms, it is capable of recognizing carbon, nitrogen, phosphorous, sulfur and oxygen, the essential elements needed to sustain basic forms of life.
Previous Martian rovers have indicated ice may exist near the Martian poles and that water may have flowed on Mars when the planet was warmer.
Within a few days, Curiosity is expected to begin sending back color photos of its exploration to the delight of us here on Earth.
Powered by nuclear technology, Curiosity itself is loaded with scientific experiments and an array of equipment to complete its mission. There are a host of cameras, a power drill, a robotic arm, a weather station, a radiation detector and every tool needed to dig into the Martian surface.