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August 15, 2019: Curiosity Rover Marks 7 Years of Martian Exploration

Rover

The Curiosity rover has been on the surface of Mars since August of 2012. 7 years after successfully completing a landing on the floor of Mars’ Gale Crater, NASA’s Curiosity rover continues to make interesting discoveries on the Red Planet. The rover landed in Gale Crater on Aug. 5, 2012. This location was chosen after NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) detected signals of clay at the site, a sign that lakes and streams flowed there billions of years ago. Its mission was to determine whether the planet was once habitable for microbial life, before its climate changed from warm and wet to cold and dry.

To date, the rover has traveled a total of 13 miles (21 km). It studied a variety of terrains. In 2014, it began to climb Mount Sharp, a 3.4-mile (5.5 km) mountain that rises from the middle of Gale Crater. Curiosity is a car-sized rover. It investigates the Martian climate and geology. It is also trying to find out whether environmental conditions exist that could allow for microbial life. Almost all water on Mars today exists as ice, though it also exists in small quantities as vapor in the atmosphere. In preparation for human exploration, planetary habitability studies are being performed. The Curiosity rover has enough power remaining to operate for about another 7 years. It is mechanically in good condition.

The Curiosity rover has high-resolution cameras. Curiosity can also vaporize a small piece of the ground surface with an infrared laser and examine the rock's elemental composition. Curiosity also has a microscope, an X-ray spectrometer and a drill. The MastCam, Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI), and Mars Descent Imager (MARDI) cameras were developed by Malin Space Science Systems. They all share common design components, such as on-board electronic image processing boxes, 1600×1200 CCDs, and an RGB Bayer pattern filter. In total, the rover carries 17 cameras: HazCams (8), NavCams (4), MastCams (2), MAHLI (1), MARDI (1), and ChemCam (1).