Curiosity’s Amazing Exploration of Mars

Last month entailed one of the most interesting adventures in space exploration, where the landing became a hot topic. For the first time, a very heavy spacecraft (about 2 tons) was going to land on the planet Mars. It was quite the challenge considering that Mars contains a thin atmosphere.

After its 7 minute solo landing on August 6, 2012, Curiosity’s orbiting partner transmitted the first dusty thumbnail images the rover had taken with her rear hazmat cameras. Two hours later, during the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter’s second flyover, high-resolution images came down showing rocks and the rim of Gale Crater, where the rover landed at a site named after the late science fiction writer Ray Bradbury.

Curiousity’s mission is to detect conditions for habitability. A quest that man has been imaging about since my grandma’s young years. Of course it went from a full-scale invasion (world of the worlds on radio) to looking for microorganisms to just ingredients which astrobiology would consider natural creators for life from the past despite the fact that never observed non-living chemicals creating life in the present.

Was there water on Mars, some point in its history? Well as the data has come in, the clays on Mars are not from water, but rather they were formed by volcanoes. Astrobiology magazine writes…

“Alain Meunier of the University of Poitiers in France has found that some Mars minerals from the Noachian period are a good chemical match to clays at the Mururoa Atoll in French Polynesia, which formed from cooling of water-rich lava.” 

“What’s more, these ancient Martian clays can be up to hundreds of metres thick, which is more likely to be associated with lava flows than soil interacting with water.” 

“Such a result would imply that early Mars may not have been as habitable as previously thought at the time when Earth’s life was taking hold,” wrote Brian Hynek of the University of Colorado in Boulder, who was not involved in the new work, in an accompanying commentary.”

John Grotzinger (in live science), who is the project scientist for the Curiosity rover is still hoping to discover water in the Gale Crater.  He tries to rationalize history as a guide for optimism, so he concludes that scientists expect to find water-lain deposits in Gusev Crater where the earlier Spirit rover landed.  Which is strange, because Spirit only detected volcanic ash with some windblown dust back in August of 2004.

Even the rocks indicate otherwise because they would have degraded in the presence of standing water along with of showing no signs of having been transported by water through Ma’adim Vallis, the valley that appears from orbit like a flood channel leading into the crater.  But yet even with this emerging picture of a salt-laden, often corroded planet there was still hope that it had standing water early in its history.

Keep in mind, this is an amazing exploration of Mars even by spirit back in 2004, but the mission is not to study Mars per say which it should be, but rather trying to find data that might give them ideas for life like discovering water. Curiosity is the best spacecraft ever made with remarkable intelligent engineering by highly skilled people.