Ten years of work by 1,000 people has resulted in a new Mars rover called Curiosity which is currently being tested at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in La Cañada Flintridge. The exploratory vehicle is scheduled to be launched to the red planet before the year’s end to study rocks formed during Mars’ wet period. “It will scoop up, grind and sift samples and load them into testing chambers. These should determine what minerals lurk in the Martian crust, and whether organic carbon compounds—the building blocks of life—are among them.”
What’s the Big Idea?
While the space shuttle program is soon to be retired, other N.A.S.A. missions continue with renewed vigor and enthusiasm. Since the string of Apollo moon landings, Mars has been one of N.A.S.A.’s primary occupations. Significant discoveries have already been made using two rovers launched in 2003. Mars rovers Opportunity and Spirit confirmed that the planet had an earlier, wet period when large bodies of water collected on its surface. While Spirit has been decommissioned, N.A.S.A. scientists hope that Opportunity will be able to examine the same rocks as Curiosity.