Mars Rover: NASA’s Curiosity Spacecraft Sends Color Panorama
(NEW YORK) -- The Mars rover Curiosity has been very busy on Twitter.
"Gale Crater Vista, in Glorious Color!" it tweeted today.
The tweets, of course, come from the press office at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., mission control for the rover. It has more than 890,000 followers.
Curiosity's mission is to wander a Martian crater, looking for signs of whether it ever had the right chemistry, or building blocks, for microbial life. If anything ever lived there, Curiosity is equipped to find it.
Mission managers showed off the first color panorama today of the area where the rover landed, showing a pebble-strewn plain in the foreground and the rim of Gale Crater, slightly obscured by haze, on the horizon a few miles away. The crater was chosen as a landing target because it may have exposed bedrock -- a good place to look for life that was wiped out eons ago and, for the most part, buried over time.
Looking at the panorama, Dawn Sumner, a mission scientist from the University of California at Davis, enthused about how the ship made an almost pinpoint landing after a long, elliptical 350-million-mile trip to Mars.
"In the hills in the distance," she said, "you see these beautiful knolls, recording the history of Gale Crater. It's very exciting to think about getting there, but it's quite a ways away."
Curiosity, about the size of a small car, has now raised the mast on its top deck on which its highest-resolution cameras are mounted. Its next job, to be completed in the next couple of days, sounds fairly mundane: Mission Control will send an upgrade of its computer operating system.
"It's a little like upgrading the software on your computer at home," said mission manager Michael Watkins. Curiosity's current software, he said, was written for the landing phase of the mission; it must now be replaced with commands for roving.
It will still be days before engineers, satisfied the rover is ready, will actually move it from its landing spot.
So far, aside from the rusty hue in the pictures, scientists concede that Curiosity has landed in a place that looks eerily like Earth -- never mind that it's 150 million miles away, drier than dust and perpetually frozen.
"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," said project scientist John Grotzinger. "The first impression you get is how Earthlike this seems, looking at that landscape."
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