Curiosity’s Five-year Journey across Mars

Curiosity’s Five-year Journey across Mars

Monday, 5 February, 2018 - 06:30
Curiosity at “Namib Dune” in January, 2016. (NASA via Getty Images)
Washington – Avi Selk
After 1,856 Martian days among blue sunsets, sand dunes and small, lumpy moons, the Mars rover Curiosity sat on the ridge of an ancient lake bed and looked back on its five-year-long journey so far.

NASA released a composite photo of what Curiosity saw in October this week, and if the rover could breathe, it might gasp.

In one image was its whole story: from the lower slopes of Mount Sharp, where it sat holding its camera, to the spot in the crater floor 11 miles distant, where it had touched down five years earlier to great celebration on Earth.

As the most complex NASA instrument ever put on Mars, with its drill, laser and chemistry set, Curiosity has sometimes disappointed those who would mine its data for research. A NASA panel even chastised the robot — or its operators — for doing more sightseeing than science.

Maybe for the same reason, Curiosity has brought Mars to life for the public. The soil data it's collected suggest Mars was once a beautiful planet of rivers and lakes. But the rover's many postcards of eclipses, dust devils and shimmering sands showed the world it's a beautiful place, even now.

Dunes

From the ridge on which Curiosity sat late last year to take its panorama photos, it could see the treacherous Bagnold Dunes it had crossed months before.

The rover reached the dune field on the 1,174th Martian day, or sol, of its mission (late 2015 on Earth) and spent months navigating between them. These mounds of windblown sand stretched for miles and were one of the greatest barriers between Curiosity and its destination — Mount Sharp, toward the crater's interior.

Curiosity took its first photos from the dunes with its back to the wind, the Planetary Society wrote, and watched sand blow across the crater's floor. It would have to be careful going forward, lest its wheels get stuck.

Naturally, it made time for a few selfies on the way.

The Washington Post

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