MISSION UPDATES | February 17, 2021

Sols 3035-3036: The Gift of Exploration

Written by Michelle Minitti, Planetary Geologist at Framework
Black and white view of Mars

This image was taken by Left Navigation Camera onboard NASA's Mars rover Curiosity on Sol 3032. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech. Download image

It is truly hard to believe it has been over 8 years - more than 3000 sols - since Curiosity landed in Gale. Most of the science team was crammed into one room at JPL to watch the landing events and (hopefully) celebrate together. When I think back to JPL’s Al Chen declaring “Touchdown confirmed, we’re safe on Mars!” - lo these many years later - I still burst into tears. The feeling of unadulterated joy and disbelief never leaves. I will never forget the raucous explosion in that room - friends and colleagues united in joy and excited for the opportunity to explore Gale crater. Everything we have done since - every image, every measurement, every meter we climb up Mt. Sharp - was enabled by that safe landing. A safe landing on Mars is a gift that keeps on giving, a gift our whole team is grateful for.

Curiosity did her best to honor that gift in this plan, gathering as much as knowledge as she could at this stop before driving on. Mastcam and ChemCam will take mosaics that capture the character of the terrain around us - an intimate mix of sand and bedrock - and the stunning layered buttes that await us farther up Mount Sharp. They will also survey the surrounding bedrock using their multispectral modes that use reflected light to probe mineralogy. MAHLI and APXS will further build our knowledge of the terrain we are on with imaging and chemical analysis of a target that is a mix of sand and rock. Navcam and Mastcam will gaze up into the atmosphere that Curiosity passed through to safely reach the surface, each measurement they make contributing to safer, surer landings in the future. And REMS, RAD, and DAN will make measurements that will make it safer for humans to make the trip to Mars.

Tomorrow, if all goes well, a new team poised for a new set of adventures will get to feel the same joy and excitement we did in August 2012. The Navcam image above looks toward the direction of Perseverance’s landing site in Jezero crater. Curiosity wishes Perseverance a safe last leg of her journey, the opening of a new gift of exploration.