What Curiosity Can Tell Us About Mars

The 1 ton rover proves to be a huge success for NASA

by Jennie Wood

Image of Mars from Curiousty roverHere's one of the first images of Mars taken by NASA's Curiosity rover. Photo Credit: NASA

Related Links

On August 6, 2012, NASA's Curiosity, a SUV-size rover, was lowered to the surface of Mars by wire cables. Before Curiosity, only one other space craft had successfully landed on Mars. That spacecraft, Mars 3 from the Soviet Union, fell silent just after landing in 1971.

Troubled Mission Ends Up a Success

Originally, Curiosity was supposed to launch in the fall of 2009 and cost $1.6 billion. Technical problems delayed the launch and NASA had to wait 26 months—the next time Earth lined up with Mars in the right position for the landing. In the meantime, the cost of the mission rose to $2.5 billion. Still, the mission was a huge achievement for NASA, which has seen criticism in recent years that the agency will never be what it once was. At a news conference, science adviser John P. Holdren said, "If anybody has been harboring doubts about the status of U.S. leadership in space, there's a 1 ton, automobile-size piece of American ingenuity, and it's sitting on the surface of Mars right now." President Obama praised the mission. In an official statement, he said, "It proves that even the longest odds are no match for our unique blend of ingenuity and determination."

Curiosity on Mars

Curiosity will spend the next two years studying the biology, chemistry, and geology of Mars. The rover's arm will take soil samples and analyze them onboard. Its chemical sniffers will examine the air on Mars for carbon compounds, which could provide signs of life. The rover also carries a long-distance laser to blast rocks up to seven miles away and the tools that will allow it to research the residue. Curiosity also has an X-ray spectrometer, which allows it to see what kinds of minerals are in the rocks as well as 17 cameras to take photos and send them back to Earth. Not bad for a project that costs less than seven dollars per U.S. citizen.

NASA first plans to make sure the rover is functioning properly by running a series of tests. By late September 2012, the rover will take soil samples. Drilling is planned for the mid-fall. The rover's research has been planned for the next two years, but since Curiosity's electricity is powered by plutonium, it could be operational and provide insight into Mars for decades to come.

Space ExplorationTo the Moon and Mars

Information Please® Database, © 2007 Pearson Education, Inc. All rights reserved.

Did you know?
Rachel Carson's book Silent Spring (1962) is generally considered to be the catalyst for the modern environmental protection movement.

highlights

Special Books for the Kids You Love
Celebrate 20 years of sharing love to the moon and back with the anniversary edition of Guess How Much I Love You, one of the world’s best-loved picture books. Plus, search our Book Finder for more great book picks. Brought to you by Candlewick Press.

Vote Now for the Children's & Teen Choice Book Awards
Voting is open now through May 3 for the Children's and Teen Choice Book Awards — the only national book awards program where the winning author, illustrator, and books of the year are selected by young readers. Encourage your child to vote for his favorites today!

Top 10 Math & Science Apps for Your Whiz Kid
Looking for the best math and science apps for kids? Check out these cool apps for all ages, which will grow your child's love of the STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering, and math).

Registered for Kindergarten — Now What?
Wondering what to do now that you've signed your child up for kindergarten? Try our award-winning Kindergarten Readiness app! This easy-to-use checklist comes with games and activities to help your child build essential skills for kindergarten. Download the Kindergarten Readiness app today!

stay connected

Sign up for our free email newsletters and receive the latest advice and information on all things parenting.

Enter your email address to sign up or manage your account.

Facebook icon Facebook icon Follow Us on Pinterest

editor’s picks