back on the journey of a great Martian explorer

This already legendary rover celebrates its tenth anniversary today; a good opportunity to think of him, since the poor man has no one to celebrate with!

Happy birthday, Curiosity! Although Persevrance has more or less stolen the show since his arrival to the Red Planet with great fanfare, his illustrious predecessor continues to tirelessly roam its crimson plains.

It celebrates its tenth anniversary today on Mars, after landing in the Crater Gale on August 5, 2012 (or the 6th, depending on the time zone chosen). Unfortunately, this machine does not have many people with whom to celebrate this decade of space exploration. For his first “Marsnial”, in 2013, NASA had him “sing” his own “Happy Birthday” which you can listen to at 1:21 below.

Since then, the rover has unfortunately not relapsed, and for good reason. From a scientific point of view, this is a waste of energy that would only hasten its demise. To mark the occasion as it should, we therefore offer you a small summary of these first ten years of Martian exploration.

A major player in the search for Martian life

Its main mission was to carry out a great inventory of Martian geology, climate and weather. NASA hoped to determine whether or not Elon Musk’s whooping cough presented favorable conditions for the appearance of life. Curiosity accomplished this task brilliantly.

Right after landing, he began by unearthing new direct evidence that Mars had hosted liquid water in the past. With this confirmation, he then unearthed a whole bunch of molecules that could one day have served as support for hypothetical life forms. During this scientific treasure hunt, the rover found nitrogen, sulfur, oxygen, and carbon — all elements that are in any case important for the carbon-based life we ​​know. on earth.

At the time, NASA did not yet know how common water and these elements were on Mars. But over the course of its wanderings, Curiosity was able to prove that the atmosphere of Mars was once much denser than it is today, with 0.6% of the density of the Earth’s atmosphere. He also showed that Mars hosted a real water cycle in good and due form. Important discoveries that have given food for thought to astrobiologists.

A precursor at the service of future settlers

And these are only the most striking elements of this long scientific adventure. Curiosity can also be proud of many contributions, perhaps less significant, but just as interesting.

For example, it was also the very first machine to directly explore the consequences of space radiation on the body of future colonists. He confirmed experimentally that the astronauts who will leave to conquer Mars will absolutely have to protect themselves from the solar wind and cosmic radiation, otherwise their DNA will be reduced to shreds by this bombardment of particles.

In 2017, it became the first rover to use an AI-based system after an update dubbed AEGIS This program, still in operation today, allows the robot to select its next target itself in a given area . Since then, he’s been more productive than when NASA had to tell him every step-by-step procedure.

©NASA

Exceptional longevity

As you will have understood, this veteran already has a remarkable record of service, with ten years and 28 kilometers on the odometer; rather impressive for a machine that was only left to operate for two years!

And he is far from having finished his big mop. Admittedly, the wheels of the rover are beginning to show signs of weakness; but according to Abigail Fraeman, a planetary scientist interviewed by Space.com, the robot’s tools are still in excellent condition. ” I think the most remarkable thing is that all the scientific instruments still work as well as when they landed “, she explains. “ We are still able to achieve the same scientific quality as ten years ago, and it is quite extraordinary “, she rejoices.

And now ?

This longevity allows NASA to concoct even more exciting new missions. To begin with, he will continue his ascent of a very particular relief, Mount Sharp. At this location, the geological context changes radically from a certain altitude; so radically, in fact, that the transition between the two zones can even be observed from orbit. All that remains is to go and check what is going on directly on site to open a new chapter in the geological history of Mars.

Once this new step has been completed, NASA will find new missions for it until Curiosity reaches its end. NASA indeed wishes to push this marvel to its limits to limit the scientific shortfall. Until its propulsion or communication system fails, it will undoubtedly continue to bring back fascinating elements that will continue to strengthen our knowledge of Mars. Let’s hope Perseverance proves to be just as tenacious!

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