Curious About the Curiosity Rover?

On January 17, 2013 by Kevin Forde

NASA Curiosity Rover in Mars

After its launch from Cape Canaveral on November 26 2011, the Curiosity Rover successfully  landed in a splendidly dry piece of Martian land on August 6 2012. This led to much fanfare and the occasional scientific “woot, woot” from engineers, scientists and space lovers alike.  Where James T Kirks’ mission was to boldly go where no man had gone before, while getting busy with some space aliens,  Curiosity”s mission was more specific: to investigate the Martian climate and geology and asses whether it ever had favourable conditions for microbial life.  Its two-year mission has been extended indefinitely.

So how has this little Wall-E look-a-like been getting on? Well, we’re glad we asked because as recently as a couple of days ago NASA gave us an update on what’s been going on with this curious little rover.  In short, it is just about ready to get its drill on.

Well, when we say “ready” we mean they will be ready in a couple of weeks, or at least that’s what the rover project manager Richard Cook told  the BBC.  First they must identify the right location to drill. Once the right area is  picked then the rover must cleanse itself of any potential Earth-like contaminants.  This is achieved by dumping several cores before delivering a teeny tiny sample of powdered rock to Curiosity’s onboard analysis labs. Then things get really interesting. Hopefully.

Curiosity’s main goal is to decide whether the Red Planet’s environment might have once allowed microbial life to flourish. Already the rover has identified rock deposits that were laid down in a stream bed many billions of years back and scientists hope its latest findings will shed more light on the Martian environment down through the years. Scientists have identified a prospective drill site and christened it John Klein (after a team member who died in 2011). It is the most complicated engineering task the tiny (well, car-sized) rover will perform since its acrobatic landing last summer.

Once finished drilling, the Curiosity rover will start a long lonely trek to the base of Mount Sharp, which amounts to a six month journey with no stops.

Keep a close eye on President Obama’s inauguration on January 21 and you might spot a full-scale model of the ground-breaking rover during the inauguration parade.