4,000 days on Mars: New achievement of the Curiosity rover

In early November, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory specialists celebrated a round date: 4,000 days since the Curiosity rover landed on Mars. Despite its advanced age, the veteran spacecraft as a whole is in fairly good technical condition and continues to fulfill its mission.

Main achievements of Curiosity

Curiosity landed on Mars in August 2012. At that time, it was the most expensive, complex and heavy vehicle that had ever landed on the surface of the Red Planet. The main tasks of the spacecraft were to study the Martian climate, geology and chemical analysis of sedimentary deposits to assess the possibility of its habitability in the past or in the present. 

Curiosity selfie taken before climbing the Greenheugh Pediment rock formation. Source: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Curiosity’s landing site was the 154-kilometer Gale crater. It was chosen because scientists believed that there had been a lake inside the funnel in the past. 

The rover successfully coped with the tasks assigned to it. Over the years, Curiosity has taken a number of soil samples and transmitted to Earth an impressive amount of data. This analysis allowed astronomers to shed light on the past of the Red Planet. They confirmed that in the past, there was a lake on the territory, which left behind powerful layers of sedimentary deposits.

Time-tested rover

According to experts, despite such an impressive period of stay on Mars, Curiosity continues to successfully fulfill its mission. To find an answer to the question whether there were conditions for the existence of microbial life on ancient Mars, the rover gradually rises to the base of the 5-kilometer Mount Sharp. Its layers were formed during different periods of Martian history.

Trace from a new soil sample taken by the Curiosity rover. Source: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Curiosity recently drilled the 39th sample, and it is currently preparing to analyze it. Scientists hope that this sample will allow them to learn more about how the climate and habitability of the Red Planet changed when this region was enriched with sulfates — minerals that formed in salt water and evaporated when Mars just began to dry out billions of years ago. In the end, the liquid water on the planet disappeared completely.

In total, since 2012, Curiosity has traveled almost 32 km across Mars in conditions of extreme cold, dust and radiation. Such extreme working conditions have led to a number of failures and inevitable wear. So now engineers are working on solving the problem with one of the “eyes” of the vehicle — the MastCam camera, which has a jammed filter wheel. 

The worn wheel of the Curiosity rover. Source: NASA

Another well-known problem with the rover is related to damage to its wheels. To solve it, engineers have uploaded new software to Curiosity that will reduce the wear that occurs when driving (the previously added traction control algorithm also helps to reduce wheel wear when driving on sharp rocks). As for the nuclear power source, according to the engineers, the energy will be enough to operate the rover for many years. So Curiosity has every chance to break the record of Opportunity, which has worked for almost 15 years on Mars.

According to https://www.nasa.gov

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