Curiosity takes us to Mars

You’ve seen plenty of media coverage already about NASA‘s Curiosity roverlanding safely on Mars. It went better than they’d hoped. Now the robot will sniff around the red planet for signs that life might ever have existed there. What it finds could tell us all sorts of things about how life began here on Earth, or about the likelihood of life elsewhere in the universe.

Its primary mission will last one Martian year (about 98 of our weeks, nearly two Earth years). But with some luck it’ll keep going longer than that.

You can read about how the mission’s going on NASA’s mission web site; here’s part of today’s:

On its first Martian day, designated Sol 0, the rover is checking its health and measuring its tilt. All Sol 0 spacecraft activities appear to have been completely nominal. These include firing all of Curiosity’s pyrotechnic devices for releasing post-landing deployments. Spring-loaded deployments, such as removal of dust covers from the Hazard-Avoidance cameras (Hazcams) occur immediately when pyros are fired. Curiosity also took images with its front and rear Hazcams both before and after removal of the dust covers, checked out its UHF telecommunications system and rover motor controller assembly, and completed all activities required to proceed with its planned activities on Sol 1. Approximately five megabytes of data were successfully relayed back to Earth from NASA’s Mars Odyssey spacecraft during its overpass today.

Activities planned for Sol 1 during the mission’s approximately one-month characterization activity phase include deploying Curiosity’s high-gain antenna, collecting science data from Curiosity’s Radiation Assessment Detector and Rover Environmental Monitoring Station instruments, and obtaining additional imagery. The mission’s characterization activity phase is design to learn how all Curiosity’s subsystems and instruments are functioning after landing and within the environment and gravitational field of Mars.

There are lots of photos of Curiosity’s surroundings on Mars too, though you can’t get away from them if you’re near a TV or newspaper these days. I’m looking forward to a constant stream of fascinating info from Curiosity.

Curiosity’s first color image of the Martian landscape. This view of the landscape to the north of NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity was acquired by the Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) on the afternoon of the first day after landing. In the distance, the image shows the north wall and rim of Gale Crater. The image is murky because the MAHLI’s removable dust cover is apparently coated with dust blown onto the camera during the rover’s terminal descent. Images taken without the dust cover in place are expected during checkout of the robotic arm in coming weeks. Click the image above to embiggen.