Five years of Curiosity’s Martian discoveries after landing day’s seven minutes of terror.
NASA’s Curiosity Mars Rover landed near Mount Sharp five years ago this week, providing astronomers with many clues about Mars and its past history.
On August 5, 2012, the mission team at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, exalted at radio confirmation and first images from Curiosity after the rover’s touchdown using a new “sky crane” landing method. Transmissions at the speed of light took nearly 14 minutes to travel from Mars to Earth, since they were about 154 million miles (248 million kilometers) apart on that day.
A rover’s-eye view of five years in Gale Crater on Mars.
Those first images included a view of Mount Sharp. The mission accomplished its main goal in less than a year, before reaching the mountain. It determined that an ancient lake environment on this part of Mars offered the conditions needed for life — fresh water, other key chemical ingredients, and an energy source.
An animated guide to Gale Crater’s surprising history.
On Mount Sharp since 2014, Curiosity has examined environments where both water and wind have left their marks. Having studied more than 600 vertical feet (180 meters) of rock with signs of lakes and later groundwater, Curiosity’s international science team concluded that habitable conditions lasted for at least millions of years. With higher destinations ahead, Curiosity will continue exploring how this habitable world changed through time.