Having survived its nail-biting entry, descent and landing, the Curiosity rover is ready to roll on Mars.
The excitement in the Mission Support Area at JPL when the signal came down that Curiosity was alive on the surface will be replayed for years to come as one of the great moments in space exploration. First pictures indicate that the rover is healthy. Next, there will be a prolonged checkout period before science collection begins in Gale Crater and Mt. Sharp, the central peak.
At the press conference following the historic landing, project manager Pete Theisinger stated that the nominal mission is two years, but the rover was tested for three times nominal but not to failure. Given that the Opportunity rover is still going strong after 8 years, Curiosity could be exploring Mars for the next decade.
The website for following Curiosity’s progress is mars.jpl.nasa.gov/msl. “Curiosity” is the name given to the Mars Science Laboratory, or MSL.
In the delirious celebration of landing, little was said about astrobiology or the search for life up through the first press conference. That will change. The press and the scientists are obsessed with finding life on another world. Curiosity is not able to detect life; at most, it can find conditions for habitability. We know from experience that the L-word lifewill appear often in upcoming press releases. Keep your focus on the data, not on the claims. Remember that scientific discovery is very different from scientific explanation. Raw data from distant worlds has usually been discouraging for astrobiologists. We’ll see if Curiosity keeps that tradition going…..
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