On August 6, 2012, the Curiosity rover touched down on the Red Planet. 10 years later, this is the opportunity for NASA and the National Center for Space Studies (CNES) to revisit the discoveries of the solitary robot. “Curiosity was sent to Mars to answer a big question: Did all the ingredients come together to support life?” Abigail Fraeman, Curiosity’s deputy project scientist, describes in a NASA video. “After a decade, not only can we say a definitive yes, but we have also discovered that these ingredients have been there for tens of millions of years.” Knowing whether Mars was inhabited remains a mystery to be discovered, but it is now certain that it “presents favorable conditions for the emergence of living things”, recalls the Cité de l’espace of Toulouse on its website, where the landing of Curiosity was broadcast live. “Looking for traces of past life (understand microbial) is a mission that has been entrusted to Curiosity’s successor twin, namely Perseverance, equipped with specific instruments for this task.”, she continues.
Ten years after its soft although risky landing in the Gale crater, at the foot of Mount Sharp, Curiosity “has traveled 28.4 km so far, drilled 35 times and climbed more than 612 m in altitude”, lists the CNES in a thread Twitter. To carry out its research, the rover is equipped with two French instruments: ChemCam (laser, spectrometer and camera), and SAM (sample analyzer).
Over the years, Curiosity will collect clues that will lead to the discovery of a dry lake, which once submerged the crater. “Measurements from Curiosity’s instruments showed that Mars was probably habitable a little over 3/4 billion years ago,” specifies the Cité de l’espace. Since then, Curiosity has discovered several traces of organic molecules, without being able to link them to traces of life. Its objective for the coming years, according to CNES: “to sink ever higher into the side of Mount Sharp in the hope of revealing the last chapters of the history of Mars and its drying up”.