NASA’s Curiosity rover has been on Mars for exactly 10 years. During that time, the vehicle has not only reinvigorated exploration of and interest in the Red Planet, but has also provided important information about its history. Early on in its exploration of Mount Aeolis Mons in Gale Crater, the rover found evidence of once-hospitable conditions on Mars, where liquid water is believed to have existed in lakes and rivers. The mission, which was actually planned to last two years, has long been considered a great success. Recently, Curiosity’s sequel, Perseverance, has garnered a lot more attention, but Curiosity continues to tirelessly explore its surroundings.
No mission end in sight
Since landing on Mars, Curiosity has traveled over 17 miles and climbed 2,000 feet in altitude, NASA has now broken down. He took more than 494,000 photos and sent over 3,000 gigabytes of data to Earth. More than four million commands were sent to the rover, and almost 900 scientific articles have already been published based on the data collected. The exactly ten earth years that he needed for this correspond to 3554 Martian days (Sol) or five Martian years.
Curiosity’s mission was extended for the fourth time this spring, so there’s no end in sight. Nevertheless, the age of the device is becoming more and more noticeable, explains planetologist Scott VanBommel. In every photo of the wheels you can see how they are becoming more and more worn and less and less energy is available for the research projects. That’s nothing new, even with the small predecessors Spirit and Opportunity. Still, the perseverance would have paved the way for future missions like Curiosity’s.
traces of water
On Mars, the Mars Science Laboratory – as Curiosity’s official mission name – found, among other things, pebbles that were probably once washed along a river that was a few dozen centimeters deep. The rover has also found some traces of this former river and lake landscape, NASA explains. However, this has been discussed for years, because some findings contradict this and indicate that liquid water could never have existed on Mars. But Curiosity has also found evidence that billions of years ago, Mars provided suitable chemical conditions for microbes. The basic building blocks for the development of life were there, it is said. However, Curiosity did not find any traces of possible living beings.
Curiosity has also become an ambassador for NASA in recent years. At the latest with the rover, it has become established that every decent space mission needs a Twitter account that provides information from the first-person perspective of the research device. Curiosity itself now has more than 4.3 million followers, well ahead of @NASAPersevere (three million). This is important for NASA for several reasons: The space agency should not only do research, but also explain what it does to people in an understandable way. An ambassador like Curiosity can also help justify tax spending. Furthermore, Curiosity has done much to improve NASA’s badly tarnished image before its mission.
Lots going on on Mars
When Curiosity landed safely on Mars after “seven minutes of horror” in 2012, he wasn’t entirely alone there. Although the connection to the much smaller Mars rover Spirit was broken a year earlier, its twin Opportunity lasted until 2018. In addition to the Perseverance that landed in 2021 and its Ingenuity helicopter, the Chinese rover Zhurong (祝融) is now on the move on Mars. With Mars Odyssey, the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, Maven (all NASA), Mars Express, the Trace Gas Orbiter (both ESA), the Mars Orbiter Mission (India), the Emirates Mars Mission (United Arab Emirates) and Tianwen-1 (China ) eight orbiters are also deployed. The mission of the Mars lander Insight is currently coming to an end.