Five years ago, the Curiosity Rover landed on Mars to explore the red planet. Here are some things you may want to know about the explorer and its mission.
It was at 10:32 p.m. PDT on Aug. 5, 2012 (1:32 a.m. EDP, Aug. 6, 2012) that Curiosity landed on Mars. Since then, it has rolled on along the surface of Mars to complete its mission. Sadly, the rover had always been celebrating its birthday alone and still on the job as it apparently sings itself a "Happy Birthday" song each year.
Mission To Find Evidence Of Life
Aptly named Curiosity, Mars Science Laboratory's (MSL) rover is a part of NASA's Mars Exploration Program. Simply put, Curiosity's mission is to assess whether the planet ever had the capability to support life forms in the form of microbes.
Amazingly, Curiosity was able to complete its mission less than a year after its arrival when it determined that an ancient lake in Mars likely had the conditions needed to support life such as fresh water.
Curiosity Can Make Its Own Decisions
With the help of an Autonomous Exploration for Gathering Increased Science (AEGIS), Curiosity has the capability to choose which rocks to test even without the help of humans. AEGIS first identifies interesting-looking rocks and allows Curiosity to use ChemCam to blast the rocks with the laser and analyze the resulting gases.
Because of this capability, no time is lost during Curiosity's mission as it can continue to explore while waiting for orders from controllers.
It Has A Broken Wheel
Curiosity's six wheels are made of solid aluminum with titanium spokes on the inside. Still, they were not spared by Mars' harsh terrain. In 2013, Curiosity experienced substantial damage to its wheels as it was rolling along a terrain littered with sharp rocks.
Earlier in 2017, two of the grousers on the Curiosity's left middle wheel broke. Despite this, Curiosity rolls on as NASA states that the broken wheels do not affect its mission significantly.
Curiosity Is Loaded
Curiosity rover is loaded — with science instruments, that is. After looking at the proposals submitted to NASA in April 2004, the team selected science instruments best suited to Curiosity's mission.
These instruments include the Sample Analysis at Mars which has a gas chromatograph, a mass spectrometer, a tunable laser spectrometer, an X-Ray diffraction instrument called CheMin, the ChemCam, the Dynamic Albedo of Neutrons which is used to detect hydrogen in minerals, and the Mars Hand Lens Imager which takes extreme close-ups of rocks and soil.
Other instruments include the Alpha Particle X-Ray Spectrometer, the Mast Camera, the Mars Descent Imager which captured a colored, high-definition video of the rover's landing, and the Rover Environmental Monitoring Station.
Here is a glimpse of what Curiosity has been doing on Mars for the last five years.
Stay curious, Curiosity. Happy Birthday!