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Landing On Mars: Curiosity Takes A Stroll

Roger Aguirre |
August 6, 2012 | 8:17 p.m. PDT


Gale Crater, named after amateur astronomer Walter Gale, is where Curiosity has recently landed (nasa.gov)
Gale Crater, named after amateur astronomer Walter Gale, is where Curiosity has recently landed (nasa.gov)

At approximately 10:32 p.m. Pacific Time, a car-sized rover aptly named Curiosity, successfully managed to land atop the familiarly unfamiliar dusty red planet, Mars. It has been 8 years since our last rovers, Opportunity and Spirit, were sent out to explore the same area, their primary mission being to explore the Martian soil and verify the validity of the Martian Water Hypothesis (is there water on Mars?). Opportunity and Spirit were able to find substantial evidence of the possibility of water in the past (“possible” because scientists prefer not to speak in absolutes). In light of the evidence, NASA decided to send another rover, Curiosity, to investigate further. 

This time around, Curiosity’s main objective is to explore Mars and scout for evidence of there ever being a hospitable climate in Mars’ history. It is also on the lookout for any organic chemicals that may have been left over from deceased organisms in the red planet’s past. Curiosity landed and will begin its search from the Gale Crater, a three-mile high mountain. The location was chosen specifically due to prior evidence of the crater once containing water and hopes of towards signs of past life.

Technically speaking, Curiosity isn’t looking for proof of current life, but the possibility of past life (again don’t enjoy absolutes). If it does come across life or even information on past life, the way scientists and people will view our place in the universe will dramatically change. The argument for extraterrestrial life has been largely theoretical to date, yet it is assumed that because the universe is possibly infinite, there are infinite opportunities for possibility.

The first image taken from Curiosity (nasa.gov)
The first image taken from Curiosity (nasa.gov)
 A goldilocks zone, or an area in space where the planet isn’t too close or too far from a sun, severely limits the amount of planets that are capable of harboring life. With any proof of life, the argument for extraterrestrial life exists, the theoretical becomes fact and our position as the sole example of life in the universe is challenged. Though the first proof of life may start small, as possibly some fossilized bacteria may lead on to complex life later on in the future.

The other major development from the successful landing of Curiosity is the potential for further exploration of other planets or even our own moon.  Recently the U.S. government has cut funding by 20 percent for NASA. If the rover was unable to make the landing, it also would have been a black eye for NASA. The $2.5 billion project may have set NASA back years, maybe even a decade.  Thankfully the rover did manage to land successfully and although Curiosity is barely starting from the foot of Gale Crater it will be making a large step for the future.


Reach Contributor Roger Aguirre here.



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