NASA marks Curiosity’s first year on Mars, readies spacecraft for next Mars mission

6 Aug 2013

This self-portrait of NASA's Mars rover Curiosity combines dozens of exposures taken by the rover's Mars Hand Lens Imager. Image via NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

One year ago today, NASA landed car-sized rover Curiosity on Mars to begin a two-year investigation into whether life ever existed on the red planet, and now the US space agency is beginning launch preparations for its next Mars mission.

“To date, Curiosity has provided more than 190 gigabits of data; returned more than 36,700 full images and 35,000 thumbnail images; fired more than 75,000 laser shots to investigate the composition of targets; collected and analysed sample material from two rocks; and driven more than 1.6 kilometres (1 mile),” NASA said.

Evidence of a past environment suited to support microbial life came within Curiosity’s first eight months on Mars, from analysis of the first sample material the rover collected by drilling into a rock on Mars, NASA added.

“We now know Mars offered favourable 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.”

Curiosity launched on 26 November 2011 for a 5/6 August 2012 landing at Gale Crater on Mars. The spacecraft used the stars to navigate its flight path.

The MAVEN spacecraft

NASA’s next spacecraft going to Mars arrived at the agency’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Friday.

The Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) spacecraft is now undergoing testing and fuelling prior to being moved to its launch pad for a lift off scheduled for 18 November.

The aim of this mission is to survey the upper atmosphere of Mars and provide scientists with new data to help them understand how the loss of atmospheric gas to space may have played a part in changing the planet’s climate.

Tina Costanza was a journalist and sub-editor at Silicon Republic