Space

NASA Curiosity cruising one year after Mars landing

curiosity

NASA's Curiosity rover takes "selfies" as it probes the Martian surface. (NASA photo)

NASA's $2.5 billion Curiosity rover captured the world's attention in August 2012 when it touched down on Mars using an unprecedented sky crane landing technique described by engineers as "seven minutes of terror."

One year later, the rover is scaling a Martian mountain and telling us Earthlings all about it.

Imbued with personality and humor – check out the rover's Twitter account – Curiosity is unlike any NASA creation before it, and with deserved pomp and circumstance celebrated its one-year anniversary atop the Martian surface on Aug. 5 by singing "Happy Birthday" to itself.

Of course, it wasn't enough to play a recorded rendition – Curiosity did its own version by vibrating its sample analysis unit at varying frequencies.

Yet Curiosity, which takes glamorous "selfies" with its 12 engineering cameras, is about substance over style. It has delivered scientists more than 180 gigabits of data and 70,000 Martian images and fired more than 75,000 laser shots to investigate the composition of Martian targets.

Along the way, Curiosity has driven more than one mile, adeptly navigating Mars' iron-rich and rocky surface with only a few hiccups along the way, including a brief computer glitch that halted it in March.

Yet Curiosity has already fulfilled its main mission objective: To determine whether Mars was once hospitable for life.

Spoiler alert: It was, and Curiosity analyzed rock samples in Mars' Yellowknife Bay to prove it.

"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," NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said in a statement. "Wheel tracks now will lead to boot prints later."

The rover is measuring radiation and weather on Mars' surface – data that will be used in plotting human missions to Mars in the coming decades.

Curiosity has been on the move over the past month, traveling about 750 yards  toward Mount Sharp. Curiosity's next goal is investigating the lower levels of the three-mile high mountain. Mars may have once been hospitable billions of years ago, but its environment is anything but friendly to man or machine now. Yet NASA engineers believe Curiosity still has at least one more year of top-notch research to come before any trouble might set in.

"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."

About the Author

Frank Konkel is a former staff writer for FCW.

The Fed 100

Save the date for 28th annual Federal 100 Awards Gala.

Featured

  • Social network, census

    5 predictions for federal IT in 2017

    As the Trump team takes control, here's what the tech community can expect.

  • Rep. Gerald Connolly

    Connolly warns on workforce changes

    The ranking member of the House Oversight Committee's Government Operations panel warns that Congress will look to legislate changes to the federal workforce.

  • President Donald J. Trump delivers his inaugural address

    How will Trump lead on tech?

    The businessman turned reality star turned U.S. president clearly has mastered Twitter, but what will his administration mean for broader technology issues?

  • Login.gov moving ahead

    The bid to establish a single login for accessing government services is moving again on the last full day of the Obama presidency.

  • Shutterstock image (by Jirsak): customer care, relationship management, and leadership concept.

    Obama wraps up security clearance reforms

    In a last-minute executive order, President Obama institutes structural reforms to the security clearance process designed to create a more unified system across government agencies.

  • Shutterstock image: breached lock.

    What cyber can learn from counterterrorism

    The U.S. has to look at its experience in developing post-9/11 counterterrorism policies to inform efforts to formalize cybersecurity policies, says a senior official.

Reader comments

Please post your comments here. Comments are moderated, so they may not appear immediately after submitting. We will not post comments that we consider abusive or off-topic.

Please type the letters/numbers you see above

More from 1105 Public Sector Media Group