Curiosity mission diary

Layers of rock on Mount Sharp

Layers of rock on the lower slops of Mount Sharp, an eventual target for Curiosity.

Curiosity's tracks as seen by MRO

Curiosity and its tracks as imaged (in false color) by Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. The blue patches are the scour marks left by the rockets that fired while the rover was being lowered to the surface.

ancient streambed on Mars

Curiosity and its tracks as imaged (in false color) by Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. The blue patches are the scour marks left by the rockets that fired while the rover was being lowered to the surface.

Tracks made by Curiosity on its first drive

Tracks made by Curiosity on its first test drive.

First target for Curiosity's laser: 
            a rock

First target for Curiosity's laser: a rock dubbed 'Coronation'.

Curiosity's first laser test

Composite image, with magnified insets, showing the first laser test by ChemCam. The large circle in the center is 6cm across. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/LANL/CNES/IRAP.

NASA's Curiosity rover landed on Mars on 6 August 2012. All systems having checked out, it's now engaged in its epic mission to explore Gale Crater for evidence of habitability.


27 September 2012: On its way to the base of Mount Sharp, Curiosity has come across what seem to be the remains of an ancient gravel streambed. The images it's sent back show small stones cemented into a layer of conglomerate rock. The sizes and shapes stones suggest that the water in the stream was moving at a rate about one meter per second was somewhere between ankle and hip deep. The well-rounded appearance of some stones in the conglomerate is evidence that the water travelled a long distance from the rim, where a channel called Peace Vallis feeds into the alluvial fan. Numerous channels in the fan between the rim and conglomerate suggests flows continued or repeated over a long period of time, not just once or for a few years.


7 September 2012: Curiosity has taken its first sniff of the Martian air using its SAM (Sample Analysis at Mars) instrument package that can potentially measure the concentration of different gases down to a few parts per trillion. The results should be known in a few days. This is the first time the Martian atmosphere has been sampled directly since the mid-1970s when the Viking landers were active. The vast bulk of the Martian atmosphere is carbon dioxide and there are unlikely to be any big surprises when it comes to the main gases present. Most interest will focus on whether Curiosity detects any methane – a gas known, form Mars satellite and ground-based telescope observations, to exist on Mars in small quantities and concentrated in certain locations. Methane can only exist for a short period on the Red Planet without being replaced, so there must be an active source of it. But whether that source is geological or biological has yet to be determined.


29 August 2012: Curiosity has set off from its landing site on its way to its major science target, dubbed Glenelg, about 400 meters away. The name was chosen because it reads the same forwards and backwards, and Curiosity will be visiting this location twice – on the way to and from Mount Sharp. At Glenelg three types of terrain intersect, and Curiosity's science team has chose it as a likely place to find a first rock target for drilling and analysis.


27 August 2012: Curiosity enabled the first human voice transmission from Mars. A brief speech by NASA Administrator Charles Bolden was radioed to the rover and back to NASA's Deep Space Network on Earth. Bolden commented on the difficulty of landing a rover on Mars, congratulated NASA employees and the agency's commercial and government partners on the successful landing of Curiosity, and said curiosity is what drives humans to explore.


Curiosity has also been sending back some spectacular high-resolution telephoto shots of its surroundings, including the exposed strata of Mount Sharp, which it will be exploring in detailed later in its mission.


On Monday (26 August), Curiosity drove over to a patch of ground where one of the spacecraft's landing engines had scoured away a few inches of gravelly soil and exposed underlying rock. Researchers plan to use a neutron-beam instrument on the rover to check for water molecules bound into minerals at this partially excavated target.


For detailed information about the Curiosity rover and its activities, visit:http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/msl/index.html and http://mars.jpl.nasa.gov/msl/.


22 August 2012: Curiosity moved for the first time today, rolling forward 4.5 m, turning clockwise on the spot, and then reversing 2.5 meters. About 5 minutes were needed to carry out the maneuver. The rover is now pointing south in the general direction of Mount Sharp, the large mountain at the center of Gale Crater. Curiosity's landing site has been named Bradbury Landing in memory of the late author Ray Bradbury.


21 August 2012: The first set-back – but only a minor one. Sensors on Curiosity's weather station have been damaged, probably by debris that hit them during the landing. This will impair the rover's ability to measure wind speed in certain directions but won't prevent them altogether. The mission team is keen stress this only a small glitch in what otherwise has been a hugely successful start to Curiosity's career on Mars.


19 August 2012: Curiosity's rock-zapping infrared laser was tested briefly by aiming it at a 7-centtmeter-wide stone, dubbed "Coronation", lying alongside the rover. The object of the exercise wasn't to do any serious science but just to make sure the laser works as intended.


The laser is part of Curiosity's ChemCam system. It fires in pulses, each lasting just 5 billionths of a second, during which it releases a million watts of power onto a spot up to 7 meters (23 feet) away. This causes electrons in the rock target to be energized ("excited") following which they release light at specific wavelengths which reveal the composition of the rock. This light is picked up by a telescope on ChemCam and relayed to a spectrometer inside the rover for analysis.


During the first test the laser hit "Coronation" with 30 pulses over a 10-second period. A detailed spectrum was obtained and the test hailed a total success.