PASADENA (CNS) – Two years after Curiosity landed on Mars, NASA scientists at Pasadena’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory celebrated the rover’s success in exploring the Red Planet and looked toward future missions.
Launched in 2011, Curiosity landed in a crater in August 2012 and has since found signs of an ancient lake that could have provided the ingredients for life.
“We were able to take advantage of landing very close to an ancient streambed and lake,” said John Grotzinger, a scientist assigned to the Curiosity Project. “Now we want to learn more about how environmental conditions on Mars evolved, and we know where to go for that.”
Grotzinger said Curiosity was being guided to destinations such as the base of an area known as Mount Sharp. Before it gets there, however, the rover must maneuver around jagged rocks, while controllers work to resolve computer glitches that recently cropped up.
Curiosity will use an onboard radiation detector to help determine what type of environment astronauts would encounter on Mars — a first step in developing technologies needed to protect them.
Researchers with NASA also are looking ahead to a next-generation rover that would be launched in 2020 and carry seven instruments on it.
According to NASA, the 2020 Mars rover would help scientists determine the potential habitability of the Red Planet andl continue to search for signs of life. The rover would also experiment with processing Martian carbon-dioxide into oxygen for human use.
“The Mars 2020 rover will help advance our knowledge of how future human explorers could use natural resources available on the surface of the Red Planet,” NASA officials said in a statement. “An ability to live off the Martian land would transform future exploration of the planet.”
NASA’s next Mars-oriented project is the MAVEN orbiter. The Mars Atmosphere and Volatile EvolutioN orbiter is expected to reach its destination in September and start analyzing the planet’s upper atmosphere.