NASA's Curiosity rover has been exploring Mars since it landed on Aug. 6, 2012, using precision landing technology.
Fast forward to present day, the exploration rover has been on Mars for 2,000 sols or Martian days.
The Curiosity Rover is part of NASA's Mars Science Laboratory Mission. It is the largest and most capable rover sent to Mars. It was launched from Earth on Nov. 26, 2011, onboard the United Launch Alliance's Atlas V and arrived on Mars after nine months.
The rover's mission is to observe and explore the Martian surface. It is deployed to gather pieces of evidence to determine if Mars ever had the appropriate environmental conditions to support microbial life and preserving clues in the rocks about possible past life.
The main subject of Curiosity's exploration mission is Mars's Gale Crater, one of the most intriguing regions on the Red Planet. The Gale Crater is a 5-kilometer high mound layered with different materials including clay, sulfur, and other oxygen-bearing minerals.
The rover observed how the layers were formed and the conditions in which the actual crater was formed.
Big And Powerful Rover
When it first arrived on Mars, the rover carried the most advanced payload of scientific gear used on Mars's surface.
The big six-wheel drive rover measures about 3 meters long and about five times as heavy as NASA's twin Mars exploration rovers, Spirit and Opportunity.
The Curiosity can travel an estimate of 30 meters or about 100 feet per hour and can climb over knee-high obstacles. Its power source is supported by a radioisotope that generates power from the heat of plutonium's radioactive decay. The continuous supply of power from the rover's generator allows greater mobility and flexibility in all types of conditions.
The rover's real exploration power is mounted on its robotic arm. It has the Mars Hand Lens Imager that can take an extreme close-up of images of rocks and soil. This powerful imager can zoom out scans of objects to reveal details that are smaller than the width of human hair.
Its Alpha Particle X-ray Spectrometer is used to determine the content of different elements in rocks and soils. It has an X-ray instrument called CheMin that can examine samples.
It also has mounted mast cameras to help the mission team on Earth select exploration sites and driving routes.
Curiosity Led To Discovery
Seven months after landing on Mars, the Curiosity probed a rock sample that contained sulfur, nitrogen, hydrogen, oxygen, phosphorus, and carbon which are key chemical elements needed to sustain life.
After its 23-month primary mission, the Curiosity advanced to observe Mars' Mount Sharp where the rover examined areas where water and wind were once present.
So far, it has explored more than 11 miles or 18 kilometers of the surface on Mars, revealing evidence of freshwater that is crucial to the existence of microbial life. The rover has also studied more than 600 vertical feet of rock that showed signs of lakes and groundwater.
Based on the data and samples gathered by the Curiosity, scientists were able to determine that the lower layers of Mount Sharp formed within lakes that once spanned Gale Crater's floor.
"The area ahead could offer additional insight into the presence of water, how long it may have persisted, and whether the ancient environment may have been suitable for life," according to a NASA statement.
In 2016, the Curiosity mission released a report of its four-year stay on Mars and described its operation team as seasoned explorers. More than 400 scientists from around the world have participated in the science operations of the Curiosity mission.
Curiosity's international science team concluded that habitable conditions on Mars lasted for at least millions of years.
In February, another veteran rover, the Mars Opportunity rover, celebrated its 5,000 sols on Mars.