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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.


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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  • thequietkid10

    The future of our species, it would be such a waste for us to spend our entire existence on one planet.

    • http://hammernews.com/ hammermann

      We are causing the greatest + fastest mass extinction in history, and you want us to mess up another planet? Actually with no running water or real atmosphere, there’s little we could do to hurt Mars. All we need for air, agriculture, rocket fuel, can be derived from cracking water. With water, even the Moon is habitable.

  • creaker

    just a question – how can the rover take a self portrait with the entire rover in the picture? What’s taking the picture?

  • ToyYoda

    The viking mission to Mars showed that there were positive signs of life by measuring carbon isotopes. Why was this data later dismissed?

    I would think such results -any positve results- would encourage later explorations to send more effort on biological explorations, but instead we’ve spent almost all the time exploring geological issues of Mars like why water has dried up on Mars.

  • David Brown

    Regarding the cost of exploring Mars… that $2.5B is remarkably close to the $2.4B that that GAO estimated TSA would be spending on backscatter scanners (http://books.google.com/books?id=X2fjVl4_KXQC&pg=PA6&lpg=PA6&dq=cost+of+backscatter+deployment&source=bl&ots=eVWLyfvgKY&sig=oLijFZ9hY3hh8FF9rCShznKl5nA&hl=en&sa=X&ei=yQoFUvC_L83a4APJ4YHoDA&ved=0CH8Q6AEwCQ#v=onepage&q=cost%20of%20backscatter%20deployment&f=false) … technology never really proven safe nor effective and now being abandoned.
    Personally, I consider the investment in science to be much more beneficial than investing in “security theater.”

  • J__o__h__n

    Life on Mars would have been a better song. Shatner’s Rocket Man too.

  • lexpublius

    I called in circa 11:24 a.m., live, to ask if the experts have a comment about Dr. Richard Hoagland’s opinion that the Mars pictures show archeological decay of buildings. The call screener hung up on me after a short discussion about it. I called right back, apologized for getting cut-off; and, after another interesting exchange about it, he said his Producer and Director were right there and refused to ask my question as “they’re not gonna get to it.” I said “then I’ll report it to Dr. Hoagland through his public comment web site.” The call screener said “Yeah, you let Dr. Hoagland know that we’re all part of the vast conspiracy to conceal the truth from the public!” [Hung up on me again.]

    It is obvious from my call that they know who Dr. Hoagland is and were not going to put my question through.

    • thequietkid10

      You got treated better then you should have IMO.

      • lexpublius

        I wonder if OnPoint contributors would have an opinion about On Point refusing to ask a legitimate question regarding a program funded by tax payers. It’s not NASA’s private money, its ours. And your comment makes me think you are connected with the OnPoint show.

    • Guest

      Hoagland isn’t a Scientist and isn’t trained in any way to do any kind of Science. He’s just a conspiracy nut. Hoagland’s “Dr” is just as an MD not a real doctorate (PhD), which means he’s trained like an auto mechanic is, to take a list of “symptoms” and go down an algorithmic tree (that any computer can do), come up with a list of “maladies” consistent with the symptoms, then do more tests until he’s whittle the causal malady list down to one item, and treat that item.

      • lexpublius

        If you had any science or facts to back up your position (photos do not lie) then you would not need resort to an ‘ad hominem’ attack against Dr. Hoagland. While M.D.s are clinicians, they are also trained in the scientific method; and, Hoagland is no stranger to that. By concealing your identity as a “guest” blogger, you make me think you may be part of the OnPoint staff, given the outrageous comment of the call screener at the end of my call.

  • Vic Volpe

    The NASA budget is less than $18 Billion (less than 1/2 of 1% of the budget) — the relief for the Sandy Hurricane was over $60 Billion. NASA research over the decades has contributed to breast cancer, MRI’s and CAT scans, dialysis, artificial limbs and much more.

    Listen to JFK’s speech at Houston on why we are going to the Moon:

    Listen to Burt Rutan and Dr. Tyson:

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