The rover is looking for signs of life and learning about the Red Planet's unique environment. The rover has traveled over 28 kilometers as of August 2nd.

It took eight months and 10 days for the red planet to be reached by the rover.

The rover is part of NASA's Mars Science Laboratory mission, which tested a novel landing method that saw the craft descend on a parachute before its landing system fired up its rockets and hovered as the rover was lowered down onto the surface. The Perseverance rover arrived on Mars in February of 2021.

How long does it take to get there?

Aeolis Mons is also known as Mount Sharp, and is the location of the Red Planet's exploration team. Evidence of water and geological change has been found by the rover during its travels.

The latest news about the mission can be found on

Curiosity: Size and speed

The sheer size of the rover makes it stand out. It's 9 feet 10 inches long by 9 feet 1 inch wide and 7 feet tall. The weight is 2,000 lbs. The weight is 900 kilogram. The wheels have a diameter of 20 inches.

The rover was designed by engineers at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory to roll over obstacles up to 25 inches tall. The power of the rover comes from a multi-mission radioisotope thermoelectric generator.

Curiosity rover science goals

The agency's Mars exploration program is supported by four main science goals.

  • Determine whether life ever arose on Mars.
  • Characterize the climate of Mars.
  • Characterize the geology of Mars.
  • Prepare for human exploration.

There are many goals. Understanding the climate of Mars will help determine if humans can safely explore its surface. Scientists will be able to better understand the geology of Mars if they study it. NASA broke down the science goals into eight smaller objectives, ranging from biology to geology to planetary processes, to help meet the larger goals.

Curiosity's instruments

The instruments on board are used to examine the environment. This is included.

  • Cameras that can take pictures of the landscape or of minerals close-up: Mast Camera (Mastcam), Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) and Mars Descent Imager (MARDI).
  • Spectrometers to better characterize the composition of minerals on the Martian surface: Alpha Particle X-Ray Spectrometer (APXS), Chemistry & Camera (ChemCam), Chemistry & Mineralogy X-Ray Diffraction/X-Ray Fluorescence Instrument (CheMin), and Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) Instrument Suite.
  • Radiation detectors to get a sense of how much radiation bathes the surface, which helps scientists understand if humans can explore there – and if microbes could survive there. These are Radiation Assessment Detector (RAD) and Dynamic Albedo of Neutrons (DAN).
  • Environmental sensors to look at the current weather. This is the Rover Environmental Monitoring Station (REMS).
  • An atmospheric sensor called Mars Science Laboratory Entry Descent and Landing Instrument (MEDLI) was primarily used during the landing. 

A complicated landing

Graphic showing stages of rover landing from entry to parachute deploy then powered descent of the landing stage and the lowering of the rover using the sky crane.

 Infographic detailing the landing sequence for the Curiosity rover.  (Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)
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NASA dubbed the landing sequence "Seven Minutes of Terror" because it took them seven minutes to land on the red planet. NASA decided that using a rolling method with land bags wouldn't work because of the weight of the rover. The rover went through a series of maneuvers to land.

A supersonic parachute needs to be deployed to slow the craft. The parachute would need to be strong. The spacecraft fell to the surface.

The MSL let go of its heat shield under the parachute to get a radar fix and figure out its altitude. It was too fast for the parachute to slow down. Engineers designed an assembly to cut off the parachute and use rockets to land the plane.

The "sky crane" was about 60 feet above the ground. The rover was dangling below the rockets using a tether. After the sky crane severed the link, MSL gently touched the ground in the crater.

NASA personnel were watching the rover's descent on tv. Engineers jumped up and down when they were told that the robot was safe.

How is Curiosity looking for signs of life?

Rusty red Martian landscape, close up of a small hole drilled by Curiosity with a mound of rusty red material surrounding it.

The Curiosity rover can drill holes to investigate Martian rocks and analyze their composition.  (Image credit: NASA)
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There are a few tools that the rover can use. An experiment that bombards the surface with neutrons would slow down if they came across hydrogen atoms.

The 7-foot arm of the rover can pick up samples from the surface and cook them inside in order to learn more about how the rocks and soil formed.

If the sample analysis of Mars picks up evidence of organic material, it can double check. The ceramic blocks are infused with artificial organic compounds.

A sample can be placed into the oven to be measured. If organics are not in the block, researchers will look for them. Scientists will likely conclude that these are organisms hitchhiking.

The rover has high-resolution cameras surrounding it that take pictures as it moves. Evidence of a streambed was found when this was used.

After a NASA science review said the rover should do less driving and more searching for places to live, it arrived at Mount Sharp. The slope is being carefully evaluated as it moves uphill. The goal is to find out how the climate of Mars changed from a wet past to a dry one.

The main recommendation of the panel is that we drive less and drill more, according to the scientist. The recommendations of the review will align because we have arrived at Mount Sharp.

Evidence for life: Organic molecules and methane

The purpose of the mission is to determine if Mars is a good place to live. The rover isn't designed to find life itself, but it can bring back information about the environment.

The information beamed back by the rover showed that Mars had a lot of water in the past.

The elements sulfur, nitrogen, hydrogen, oxygen, phosphorus and carbon were included in the first drill samples that were obtained. The scientists involved in the mission were excited by the find, even though it wasn't proof of life.

Layers of rust red rock are piled high.

Mars' landscape is covered with interesting rock formations like this butte scene from the "Murray Buttes" area.  (Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS)
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Michael Meyer is the lead scientist for the Mars Exploration Program. The answer is yes from what we know now.

There was a huge spike in methane levels on Mars in late 2013 and early 2014, at a level of about 7 parts per billion. Methane is an indicator of life. It can point to processes in the earth's surface. The team decided that the methane spike was not a seasonal event. There are small changes in methane that are related to the seasons.

The first definitive identification of organics on Mars was made in December of last year. Organics are considered life's building blocks but do not point to the existence of life as they can be created through chemical reactions.

NASA stated at the time that the ancient environment offered a supply of reduced organic molecule for use as building blocks for life and an energy source for life.

The initial results of the lunar and planetary science conference show that scientists were able to find complex organic molecules in Martian samples. Evidence that life was possible on Mars was added to the results of the work done by the Curiosity rover. One study described the discovery of more organic molecules in 3.5 billion-year-old rocks, while the other showed that methane concentrations in the atmosphere change. There is no proof that the gas is produced from living organisms.

Scientists said that the rover had found some interesting organic compounds. There is a lot of work to be done to see if the compounds are signs of ancient life on Mars.

What else is Curiosity looking for?

Close up of a rock on the surface of Mars.

Dark, stick-shaped features that are about the size of a grain of rice, can be seen clustered on this Martian rock. This is a focus-merged view from the Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) camera on NASA's Curiosity Mars rover. It covers an area about 2 inches (5 centimeters) across.  (Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS)

The instruments on board are designed to learn more about the environment around it. A continuous record of weather and radiation observations is one of the goals.

Every hour, the Radiation Assessment Detector runs for 15 minutes to measure the amount of radiation on the ground and in the atmosphere. Scientists are interested in measuring the amount of radiation that can cause lower-energy particles after it hits the gas molecule in the atmosphere. Humans can be at risk from this process. There is an ultraviolet sensor on the deck.

In December of last year, NASA decided the radiation levels measured by Curiosity were manageable for a future mission to Mars. A mission with 180 days flying to Mars, 500 days on the surface and 180 days heading back to Earth would create a dose of 1.01 sieverts, according to the radiation assessment detector. A 5 percent increase in fatal cancer risk over a person's lifetime is associated with the total lifetime limit for European Space Agency astronauts.

The temperature and humidity in the air are measured by the Rover Environmental Monitoring Station. Scientists were able to see long term trends in atmospheric pressure and air humidity. The winter carbon-dioxide polar caps melt in the spring and cause some of these changes.

NASA said in June of last year that it had a new software upgrade that would allow it to pick targets on its own. Artificial intelligence was used for the first time on a distant space ship.

The pictures were sent back in the early part of last year. One possibility is that they are formed after salts are concentrated in a lake. The features were rumored to be signs of burrowing life, but NASA quickly discounted that idea because they are very similar to crystalline growth.

Curiosity's trials and tribulations

A gas-sniffing analysis instrument was contaminated by Vapors from a "wet chemistry" experiment. The scientists came up with a way to seek and preserve the organics after they collected and analyzed the vapor.

There was a computer glitch that put the rover within an hour of losing contact with Earth. There was a brief glitch in 2016 that temporarily stopped science work.

The damage to the rover's wheels appeared more quickly than expected. The controllers were made in the rover's route. They are damaging things. "That's the surprise we got back at the end of last year," said Jim Erickson, the project manager at NASA's JPL. We were expecting to get some holes in the wheels. We were surprised by the magnitude of what we were seeing.

In order to work with the soft rock in some of the region, NASA pioneered a new drilling technique at Mount Sharp in February 2015. A rock sample broke after being probed with a drill.

When a motor linked with two stabilizing posts on the drill bit stopped working, engineers had to use a different drill. The drill obtained its first samples in more than 18 months after being examined by NASA. In 2020 it bounced back from another glitch when it lost its orientation.

The resilience of the rover is a testament to its design and the hard work of the scientists. The rover has continued to survey the planet 10 years after landing because of this.

NASA has a feature where you can see where the rover has been as well as the current location. You can explore the surface of Mars with NASA's interactive tool, which will show you more about where the rover has been. This 3D rover feature will allow you to explore more in detail.


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