80,000 laser firings
Just one year ago, NASA’s Curiosity rover landed on the surface of the Red Planet after “7 minutes of terror.” Six months later, the U.S. space agency was able to announce with satisfaction that it had found evidence that conditions on ancient Mars could have been conducive to life. In February 2013, analyses from Curiosity also showed that the planet’s atmosphere is being stripped away by the solar wind.
During the first year of its mission, Curiosity, supported by relay satellites, has beamed back to Earth more than 190 Gbits of data - the equivalent of 45,600 mp3 music tracks. The ChemCam instrument has fired its laser at rocks 80,000 times to probe their chemical composition.
Mount Sharp in its sights
Some of the laser firing commands were sent from the FIMOC1 facility at CNES in Toulouse, notes its chief Eric Lorigny with satisfaction. “These kinds of results are just what we’d hoped for before the mission got underway,” he says. “Now we’re set to continue amassing data all the way to Mount Sharp.”
Indeed, Curiosity’s exploration of the Red Planet is far from over. The six-wheel rover recently resumed the trek towards Mount Sharp, its primary target 8 km from the landing site. After a journey of several months, during which it will analyse more rocks along the way, Curiosity will pore over the exposed sedimentary layers at the base of the 5,000-m-high mountain that scientists hope to read like an open book into the planet’s history.