Hey, is that Mars or the Mojave in NASA rover's photo?
One of the first images from the camera atop the rover Curiosity's mast shows a Mars landscape that scientists called remarkably Earth-like, as if NASA 'put a rover out in the Mojave Desert.'
It could be an old postcard from Earth – a detailed black-and-white picture showing a barren, subtly undulating landscape stretching to a mountain range in the distance.Skip to next paragraph
In Pictures Exploring Mars with Curiosity
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Looking at the scene, "you would really be forgiven for thinking that NASA was trying to pull a fast one on you and we actually put a rover out in the Mojave Desert and took a picture," complete with "a little L.A. smog coming in there," quips John Grotzinger, a researcher at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena and the Mars Science Laboratory mission's project scientist.
But this isn't the Mojave. It's Mars. Specifically, the interior of Gale Crater, with the crater's north rim rising in the distance.
As it examined the photo, the science team marveled at how Earth-like the scene appears, Dr. Grotzinger says. It's among the first images from the navigation camera mounted atop the rover's newly erected mast.
The scene's familiarity hints at why NASA is spending $2.5 billion on the Mars Science Laboratory mission. Mars is Earth-like in many ways, but seemingly is barren of life. Curiosity is designed to help scientists determine whether, in Mars’ distant past, this 3-billion to 4-billion-year-old crater hosted an environment where life could have gained a foothold.
Now heading into its third Martian day, or sol, Curiosity has been performing virtually flawlessly as engineers carefully begin flexing its motorized joints and activating cameras and instruments.
Engineers have finished aiming the rover's high-gain antenna toward Earth. Curiosity has fully extended its camera mast, whose three different camera systems sit seven feet above the Martian surface. Engineers are well on the way toward fixing a software glitch with the rover's on-board weather station. And while the interior of the rover is a tad warmer than the engineering team expected, that extra heat will not affect the performance of Curiosity's science packages.
Indeed, the extra warmth may turn out to be helpful, said Jennifer Trosper, mission manager for the Mars Science Laboratory, at a briefing Wednesday. It means the rover will require less energy to warm actuators needed to drive around and to move the rover's seven-foot-long arm. The arm collects rock and soil samples and transfers them to the chemistry lab inside the rover. It also hosts an X-ray device for analyzing minerals in rocks and a small camera that serves as a geologist's magnifying glass.