November 13, 2013

John Grotzinger, Curiosity's principal investigator, narrates an aerial tour of the rover's past, present and future traverses on the Red Planet.


John Grotzinger: We're flying in towards Mount Sharp, located in the center of Gale crater on Mars. To give you a sense of scale, Gale crater has the diameter of the big island of Hawaii, and Mount Sharp is taller than the highest mountain in the lower 48 United States. As we descend to about 500 feet, we're going to be seeing some of the terrains that Curiosity has been exploring. To begin with we're going to look at Yellowknife Bay, and that's where she discovered clays and an ancient habitable environment on Mars. But we had to drive there from where we landed, which is this mound-shaped hummocky terrain that was safe. And you can see how it's flatter. We landed right in the middle of that. Now, in late 2013, Curiosity is driving her way through this terrain. It's kind of etched and rough and rugged. On the left we also have a field of dark-colored sand dunes. And we're trying to find a place where there's a gap in the sand dunes because we don't feel it's safe to cross over the sand dunes with the rover. We'd rather do it on hard rock. We would guess that sometime towards the middle of 2014 we will arrive at this place where there's a break in the sand dunes. It's a place that's special to us because it represents interesting geology. And the topography is also interesting. We call it Murray Buttes, named after Bruce Murray, who was a pioneer in the field of planetary geology. When you look down here, you can see all these small buttes and mesas. And each one of those buttes is about 5 to 10 meters high. And each one of the buttes is about the length and width of a football field. You can see that sort of valley that goes through the middle of them there. And that's where Curiosity will wend her way through this rough terrain, we hope making interesting discoveries and, most importantly, signifying the transition between the first half of the mission which was exploring the plains we landed on, and the second half of the mission, which is exploring the flank and climbing up Mount Sharp.

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