The exploits of the Mars Curiosity Rover’s mission thus far have been detailed in a new book by Marc Kaufman called Mars Up Close.
The Mars Curiosity Rover was launched from Cape Canaveral, Florida on November 26th, 2011. It landed on the Aeolis Palus Gale Crater on Mars almost nine months later on August 6th, 2012 according to NASA.
While on Mars, the Curiosity Rover’s goals have been to investigate the Martian climate and geology. That means assessing whether or not the Martian Gale Crater has ever offered environmental conditions favorable for the existence of microbial life. Curiosity has also examined the role of water on the planet, as well as conducted habitability studies for future human explorations of Mars.
The BBC’s Katty Kay recently interviewed Marc Kaufman, and he said that the discoveries that Curiosity has made are astounding.
“What we have found is what scientists believe are the most important planetary discoveries ever made, in fact, even more important than when astronauts went to the moon. What they have found is that there was a time, way, way back, when Mars had a lot of running water on it, which they had suspected before but never really ground tested, ground proven. And similarly they have found that there are parts of Mars, and this is remarkable, that they believe are eminently habitable. In other words, life could have lived there.”
Marc Kaufman has spent the past two years embedded with NASA scientists as they’ve monitored Curiosity’s exploration of the red planet.
He cautioned that just because life could have survived on Mars, it doesn’t mean that it did. However, the possibility is extraordinary.
Although the Martian year is very long, Kaufman also said that Curiosity has discovered that there are actually seasons on Mars. Those seasons are defined by heat and cold – very, very cold as in minus 100 degrees centigrade. The seasons on Mars, Curiosity has discovered, are also defined by dust storms. There are certain times of the Martian year when certain areas are affected by more and less severe dust storms.
When asked just how long Kaufman though that Curiosity would be exploring on Mars, Marc recounted an earlier rover.
“The earlier Rover, Opportunity, was expected to last for… I think it was 18 months. And it’s been up there now for ten years. This [Curiosity] was supposed to last for two years. It’s already done two years, and there’s every reason to think that it can go for as long as the power source will allow it, and that’s about ten years.”
However, not all is completely well with Curiosity. Despite all the technical and computer-based functions working above and beyond, the Rover’s front wheels have received some serious punctures as a result of rolling over the Martian landscape. However, NASA officials have now begun driving Curiosity backwards around the red planet, to put less pressure on Curiosity’s front tires and extending the Rover’s lifespan in the process.
image via Photo Shd