Mars Rover Begins Exploration Duties

August 6th, 2012

NASA's Curiosity rover and its parachute were spotted by NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter as Curiosity descended to the surface on Aug. 5 PDT (Aug. 6 EDT). The High-Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera captured this image of Curiosity while the orbiter was listening to transmissions from the rover. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Arizona

Credit: NASA/JPL Cal Tech

PASADENA, Calif. — The one-ton Curiosity rover has touched down on Mars, the end point of its space travels from Earth that took 36-weeks.

Dangling by nylon ropes from a rocket backpack, the robot appears to be in good health to start a two-year investigation of its Mars surroundings at Gale Crater.

“Today, the wheels of Curiosity have begun to blaze the trail for human footprints on Mars,” said NASA Administrator Charles Bolden shortly after the landing.

Curiosity is the most sophisticated rover ever built. Its duty now is to seek to answer age-old questions about whether life ever existed on Mars — or if the planet can sustain life in the future, Bolden added.

Curiosity landed at 10:32 p.m. Aug. 5, PDT, (1:32 a.m. EDT Aug. 6) near the foot of a mountain three miles tall and 96 miles in diameter inside Gale Crater.

The rover is within driving distance of layers of the crater’s interior mountain.

Curiosity returned its first views of Mars shortly after its touch down.

“Curiosity’s landing site is beginning to come into focus,” said John Grotzinger, project manager of NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory mission, at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena.

“In the image, we are looking to the northwest. What you see on the horizon is the rim of Gale Crater. In the foreground, you can see a gravel field. The question is, where does this gravel come from? It is the first of what will be many scientific questions to come from our new home on Mars,” Grotzinger said.

By Leonard David