After the Curiosity Rover alighted at Bradbury Landing last year, carrying the Mars Science Laboratory, all of its operations have taken place less than one kilometer from the landing site. Already, the mission has delivered electrifying science, discovering an ancient Mars with running streams and still ponds, with all of the conditions and ingredients needed for microbial life. But that is only the beginning.
Curiosity is finishing investigations in an area smaller than a football field where it has been working for six months, and it will soon shift to a distance-driving mode headed for an area about 5 miles (8 kilometers) away, at the base of Mount Sharp.What lies ahead for the Curiosity mission is not a destination, but a journey of exploration. Jim Erickson, the Project Manager, explained:
"We don't know when we'll get to Mount Sharp," Erickson said. "This truly is a mission of exploration, so just because our end goal is Mount Sharp doesn't mean we're not going to investigate interesting features along the way."We know a lot about Mars' thin atmosphere and cold, arid surface today. We're learning more and more about Mars' warmer, wetter denser atmosphere in the past. The trip to Mount Sharp may yield a lot of information about how warm, wet ancient Mars became the Mars of today.
Images of Mount Sharp taken from orbit and images Curiosity has taken from a distance reveal many layers where scientists anticipate finding evidence about how the ancient Martian environment changed and evolved.
Inasmuch as humanity has proven capable of changing climate on a global scale, it seems to me more urgent than ever to learn as much as possible about processes affecting planetary evolution. All hail Jim Erickson and his team of hero scientists and engineers at JPL.
For all of my Mars diaries and all things Mars on Daily Kos, go to Kossacks on Mars.