Curiosity: Behind the Mars Rover

Curiosity is the largest, most technologically advanced rover ever built. Part of NASA’s ambitious Mars Science Laboratory mission, the rover was developed for the primary purpose of helping scientists determine whether conditions on the planet were ever suitable for life. The rover landed on the Red Planet’s surface in 2012 and has been collecting valuable geological data ever since. Curiosity’s advanced instruments allow it to acquire samples of rocks and air for onboard analysis. The car-sized rover is equipped with 17 cameras and a 7-foot arm robotic arm with numerous specialized instruments, including a laser to vaporize rock from a distance, and a drill to collect rock samples. Curiosity has six wheels that allow it the ability to climb knee-high obstacles and travel at about 100 feet per hour. The rover’s power comes from a radioisotope thermoelectric generator that produces electricity from the heat of plutonium-238’s radioactive decay.  

Curiosity’s Discoveries

In March of 2018 Curiosity celebrated 2,000 sols, or Mars days, while making its way from Gale Crater to Aeolis Mons, and it has made several discoveries in its time there. Curiosity’s landing in and of itself was a huge success for the rover and for NASA scientists that hope to one day colonize Mars. The rover was lowered down using a sky crane and cables with incredible precision that makes future, more complicated landings possible. Curiosity observed that Martian radiation conditions are comparable to those that the astronauts aboard the International Space Station experience, meaning that the planet’s radiation levels wouldn’t be a deterrent for future Mars colonies. Findings from its mission also showed that the Red Planet’s surface is more porous than anticipated, showing that the rocks most likely have a reduced density and are more compressed than scientists had originally thought. This most likely indicates that long ago a pH neutral body of water, such as a lake, could have once been on the planet. Only seven weeks after Curiosity’s initial touchdown on the planet, the rover discovered an ancient streambed where it is believed that water flowed for thousands of years at a time. When scientists consider all of Curiosity’s discoveries, they conclude that there’s a good chance that life once thrived on the Red Planet, and maybe someday it could again. Want more space? Follow us on YouTube to learn more fascinating facts about rockets and space on our talk show, Rocket Talk!