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The Curiosity Rover: One Year On Mars

With John Harwood in for Tom Ashbrook.

One Earth-year and seventy-thousand pictures later, what have we learned since the Mars rover Curiosity landed on the Red Planet?

This photo released by NASA shows a self-portrait taken by the NASA rover Curiosity in Gale Crater on Mars. Measurements of the Martian air by the rover found it’s mostly made of carbon dioxide with traces of other gases, according to two studies appearing in the Friday, July 19, 2013 issue of the journal Science. (AP/NASA)

This photo released by NASA shows a self-portrait taken by the NASA rover Curiosity in Gale Crater on Mars. Measurements of the Martian air by the rover found it’s mostly made of carbon dioxide with traces of other gases, according to two studies appearing in the Friday, July 19, 2013 issue of the journal Science. (AP/NASA)

Mars is a very long way away. No human has even been there. But a year ago, NASA managed to land the data gathering machine called Curiosity in a deep crater.

What have we learned since then, about the possibility of life on Mars, and what happened to it? How do we control this roving piece of equipment, and where is it going next? Will a 21st century Neil Armstrong ever set foot on the “Red Planet”?  Does the American government have the wallet and the will to keep exploring space?

This hour, On Point: a progress report from NASA experts on our quest to learn from Mars.

Guests

J. Kelly Beatty, senior contributing editor for Sky And Telescope Magazine. (@nightskyguy)

John Grotzinger, chief project scientist for the NASA Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity rover mission. Professor of Geology at California Institute of Technology.

Jennifer Harris Trosper, deputy project manager and project systems engineer for NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

From The Reading List

Space.com: Curiosity Rover ‘Blazing Trail’ for Humans on Mars, NASA Chief Says — “In its first year on Mars, NASA’s Curiosity rover has made discoveries that should help pave the way for human missions to the Red Planet in the next few decades, space agency officials say.”

The Independent: What has the Mars Curiosity rover actually achieved in its first year on the Red Planet? — “Of all the space probes and landers that have been sent to Mars over the past four decades, none has matched up to the extraordinary sophistication – and size – of the Curiosity rover, a six-wheeled robotic vehicle and mobile laboratory the size of a large family car.”

TechCrunch: How The Curiosity Rover Sang Happy Birthday To Itself On Mars — “We’re a few days late in wishing the Mars Curiosity Rover a happy birthday – it landed on the Red Planet on August 5th one year ago – so to make up for it we present Florence Tan, the team lead for the rover’s on-board chemistry lab, talking about how they transmitted commands to the rover so it could play “Happy Birthday” to itself. It is at once one of the most miraculous things you’ll see all week and, in a way, the saddest. The rover sings using a set of vibrating plates designed to move soil samples through the chemistry module. While most of the signals are more “beep boop” than bebop, the module can also play notes.”

 

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