In June this year, NASA’s Curiosity Rover, which has been wandering the surface of Mars since it was first deployed in 2012, discovered organic molecules in ancient rocks on the red planet. But what’s just as incredible as the discovery is the rover itself and that human beings have been driving a vehicle on another planet for the last six years. We may not have taken that one giant leap ourselves yet, but that we are now exploring other planets is beyond question. It wasn’t easy getting there. In order for the rover to reach Mars, NASA scientists had to perform one of the most daring manoeuvres in the history of space flight. After a journey of 300 million miles, approaching the atmosphere at some 8,000mph, the probe first deployed a supersonic parachute and heat shield, then performed a complicated sequence of rocket blasts before being finally lowered down on a sky crane. And it had to land in precisely the right place. It was like finding a needle in a haystack from the other side of the solar system. That we can build such machines is an engineering marvel. Thanks to those achievements, we may finally be one step closer to perhaps answering the question whether we are alone in the universe…
SEVEN WONDERS OF THE WORLD FOR 2018
NASA CURIOSITY ROVER
Curiosity is a car-sized rover designed to explore Gale Crater on Mars as part of NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory mission (MSL). Curiosity was launched from Cape Canaveral on November 26, 2011, at 15:02 UTC aboard the MSL spacecraft and landed on Aeolis Palus in Gale Crater on Mars on August 6, 2012, 05:17 UTC. The Bradbury Landing site was less than 2.4 km from the center of the rover’s touchdown target after a 560 million km (350 million mi) journey. The rover’s goals include an investigation of the Martian climate and geology; assessment of whether the selected field site inside Gale Crater has ever offered environmental conditions favorable for microbial life, including investigation of the role of water; and planetary habitability studies in preparation for human exploration.
In December 2012, Curiosity’s two-year mission was extended indefinitely. On August 5, 2017, NASA celebrated the fifth anniversary of the Curiosity rover landing and related exploratory accomplishments on the planet Mars. The rover is still operational, and as of January 7, 2019, Curiosity has been on Mars for 2283 sols (2345 total days) since landing on August 6, 2012.
Curiosity’s design will serve as the basis for the planned Mars 2020 rover.