NASA’s Curiosity rover lands on Mars: what’s next?

6 Aug 2012

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One of the first images taken by NASA's Curiosity rover, which landed on Mars the evening of 5 August 2012 PDT (morning of 6 August 2012 EDT). Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

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NASA’s US$2.5bn Mars Science Laboratory’s (MSL) mission to Mars has been successful, as the Curiosity rover landed safely on the Red Planet this morning, on schedule. The probe ended a 36-week flight to alight on Mars today and will now begin a two-year investigation into whether life ever existed on the planet.

US President Barack Obama said the landing of the one-tonne rover will “stand as a point of national pride far into the future”.

The Curiosity rover had launched on 26 November 2011 towards Mars for a 5/6 August landing date at Gale Crater. The spacecraft had been using the stars to navigate its flight path.

Now, over the next two years, Curiosity will be investigating whether a region inside the Gale Crater region of Mars has offered environmental conditions that could have supported microbial life. The rover will also be looking for clues about whether life ever existed, or could exist, on the planet.

And Obama had more to say about the landing in terms of technological prowess, describing the Curiosity as “the most sophisticated roving laboratory ever to land on another planet” and an “unprecedented feat of technology”

Meanwhile NASA administrator Charles Bolden, who was recently in Dublin, Ireland for the Euroscience Open Forum, spoke about how Curiosity  –  the largest rover ever sent to another planet ­ – endured a 352m mile journey to get to Mars, as well as a “harrowing landing that demonstrated cutting-edge technology”.

He said that Curiosity will set out to seek the answers to what he called “one of humanity’s oldest questions”, in its investigation of whether conditions have ever supported microbial life on Mars.

“The mission is a critical planetary science mission, and a precursor to sending humans to the Red Planet in the 2030’s, a goal set forth by President Obama,” added Bolden.

The Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) team pictured in Pasadena, California after learning the Curiosity rover has landed safely on Mars. Photo credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls

The Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) team pictured in Pasadena, California after learning the Curiosity rover has landed safely on Mars. Photo credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls

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Carmel was a long-time reporter with Siliconrepublic.com

editorial@siliconrepublic.com