Today, on June 24, Nasa’s Mars Curiosity rover completes one Martian year — 687 Earth days — on the Red Planet. Launched in November 2011 from Florida, US, the 3 meter long laboratory-on-wheels landed on Mars in August 2012. Since then it has been busy trundling around on its special wheels, collecting rock and mud samples from the dusty Martian surface like a real life version of Wal-e.
Nasa said that Curiosity has “accomplished the mission’s main goal of determining whether Mars once offered environmental conditions favorable for microbial life”.
One of Curiosity’s first major findings was in an ancient riverbed at its landing site, Yellowknife Bay, where analysis of samples from two mudstone slabs revealed the site was once a lakebed with mild water, the essential elemental ingredients for life, and a type of chemical energy source used by some microbes on Earth. If Mars had living organisms, this would have been a good home for them.
Till now, Curiosity has clocked up 7.9 kilometers of travel on the Mars surface. Wheel damage in late 2013 prompted mission control to adjust its travel routes so that further damage is minimized.
Curiosity is now heading westward towards the lower slopes of Mount Sharp. About 3.9kms away lies a gap in the dunes on the base of Mount Sharp and scientists are meticulously planning the route which will go over rocky as well as sandy patches.
At Mount Sharp, the mission team will seek evidence not only of habitability, but also of how environments evolved and what conditions favored preservation of clues to whether life existed there.