Feeds

One amazing reason why NASA boffins are celebrating Curiosity's 687th day on Mars

Nuke-powered space tank promises to keep on truckin'

The smart choice: opportunity from uncertainty

As Curiosity trundles across the plains of Mars, its controllers at NASA are preparing to hold a bit of a party – as on June 24 the rover celebrates its first full Martian year (687 Earth days) on the Red Planet.

Curiosity looking good on first Martian birthday

Curiosity is looking good on its first Martian birthday

The rover landed on August 6, 2012 in Earth reckoning, and in the last Martian year has succeeded in its primary mission of finding out if Mars could have supported basic life as we know it. In March of last year, NASA reported that it had achieved just that, after drilling samples at a rock formation named Yellowknife Bay showed Mars had warm, flowing water and all the ingredients needed to sustain life.

Since then the rover has taken rock samples from two other sites that have backed up the original conclusion, and it's now trundling its way across the surface seeking more evidence. Its goal is to reach the side of Mount Sharp, which should allow NASA scientists to see how the Martian environment evolved by examining rock strata that's similar to the last drilling site of Windjana.

"It's too early for conclusions, but we expect the results to help us connect what we learned at Yellowknife Bay to what we'll learn at Mount Sharp," said John Grotzinger, Curiosity project scientist at the California Institute of Technology. "Windjana is still within an area where a river flowed. We see signs of a complex history of interaction between water and rock."

The one-Martian-year anniversary also marks the expected lifespan of the Curiosity mission. The rover was designed to last at least this long to be regarded as a successful mission, but NASA engineers typically design parts to last for two to three times their expected lifespan.

So far the rover is in excellent health. Its nuclear core is functioning well, its software has been upgraded multiple times, and its instruments show little sign of providing problems. When Curiosity landed, NASA officials said it was conceivable that the rover could last up to an Earth decade before conking out – and it looks good so far.

It hasn't all been fun and games, however – Curiosity's wheels are having a tough time of it with the rocky terrain. NASA is currently running the six-wheeled rover much more carefully after a number of tears and rips appeared in the metal wheel plates.

Curiosity route map

Curiosity's long and winding road

The NASA team controlling the rover is now picking their way carefully towards a gap in the sand dunes surrounding Mount Sharp. The entry point is 2.4 miles (3.9 kilometers) away from the rover's current location, and the agency is using the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter to scout out the safest route.

"We are getting in some long drives using what we have learned," said Jim Erickson, Curiosity project manager at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. "When you're exploring another planet, you expect surprises. The sharp, embedded rocks were a bad surprise. Yellowknife Bay was a good surprise." ®

The Power of One Infographic

More from The Register

next story
World Solar Challenge contender claims new speed record
One charge sees Sunswift travel 500kms at over 100 km/h
SMELL YOU LATER, LOSERS – Dumbo tells rats, dogs... humans
Junk in the trunk? That's what people have
The Sun took a day off last week and made NO sunspots
Someone needs to get that lazy star cooking again before things get cold around here
Boffins discuss AI space program at hush-hush IARPA confab
IBM, MIT, plenty of others invited to fill Uncle Sam's spy toolchest, but where's Google?
Bad back? Show some spine and stop popping paracetamol
Study finds common pain-killer doesn't reduce pain or shorten recovery
Forty-five years ago: FOOTPRINTS FOUND ON MOON
NASA won't be back any time soon, sadly
Jurassic squawk: Dinos were Earth's early FEATHERED friends
Boffins research: Ancient dinos may all have had 'potential' fluff
prev story

Whitepapers

Top three mobile application threats
Prevent sensitive data leakage over insecure channels or stolen mobile devices.
Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
Boost IT visibility and business value
How building a great service catalog relieves pressure points and demonstrates the value of IT service management.
Designing a Defense for Mobile Applications
Learn about the various considerations for defending mobile applications - from the application architecture itself to the myriad testing technologies.
Build a business case: developing custom apps
Learn how to maximize the value of custom applications by accelerating and simplifying their development.