NASA's Mars rover has been collecting data on the Red Planet for three years.
Three years ago on the night of August 5, 2012, NASA’s rover Curiosity soft landed on the surface of Mars and began collecting data. The six-wheeled robot landed in a 96 mile wide crater, know as Gale, to check for signs of microbial life in the planet’s ancient history.
According to an article on Discovery.com, the mission has been a tremendous success. Curiosity’s observations have allowed scientists on Earth to determine the area around Gale Crater contained a lake and stream system for long stretches in the past, that may have supported life.
The rover drilled rocks and soil for almost a year in an area named Yellowknife Bay, before heading to explore a new section of the planet, a mountain identified as Mount Sharp. Curiosity reached the foothills in September of last year.
Researching Mars’ changing climatic conditions was the primary focus of the $2.5 billion effort from the start, and the team hopes to navigate the rover up the slope of Mount Sharp, taking soil and rock samples along the way.
Curiosity studied an area known as Parhump Hills for about five months before moving on in March of 2015. The rover drilled into the mountainside on three separate occasions. The team said the five months was a great investment because they were able to determine what the mountain is made of.
The rover now sits at an elevation of about 66-98 feet above the floor of Gale’s crater. The goal is to reach a point some 1650 feet up to research different parts of the mountain. A geological contact zone, where two distinct types of rock are coming together, has a particular interest to the research team. The difficult terrain has made advancing the rover a slow go and some alternate routes have been used.
Time is of the essence for the program, as it’s original two-year mission expired in 2014. NASA extended the program for another two years, and the team hopes to file for another extension at the end of that term. They think they have a good case since the rover is in good condition and productive.