Rover bound for intriguing crater on Mars
Curiosity, NASA's most advanced rover, will search Gale Crater for evidence of life as we know it on Mars.
June 14th, 2012
09:50 AM ET

Rover bound for intriguing crater on Mars

Curiosity, NASA's rover bound for Mars, is set to touch down in August. Now, scientists say they know with even more accuracy where it will land.

The summer landing will be the start of a Martian road trip that will take months or possibly a year as Curiosity makes its way toward its final destination, the Gale Crater, said Curiosity contributor James Wray, an assistant professor of Earth and Atmospheric Science at the Georgia Institute of Technology.

"The most important thing perhaps is that we are steering to a different place in Gale Crater, which is a giant mountain of sedimentary rock," Wray said. Unlike Curiosity's predecessors, Opportunity and Spirit,  "We are going with the intention of having to drive a long distance before even getting to what we want to study because the mountain is too steep," Wray said.

However, the new landing destination has been pinpointed with accuracy previously impossible and will shave several months off Curiosity's drive to Gale Crater. Strategically, the new landing site makes sense. But, "the public and scientists will have to be more patient to get the really juicy stuff," Wray said.

The 'juicy stuff' that Curiosity seeks to uncover is evidence of the ability for life as we know it - past or future - on the Martian surface.

Gale Crater was created more than 3 billion years ago when Mars was struck by a meteorite and now houses three miles of sediment, providing the perfect location for such an investigation. Wray said examining Gale Crater will be similar to going through Earth's history by examining the layers of the Grand Canyon and learning, by the thickness and make up of the rocks, if they were once carved by oceans, lakes or air.

"We'll start down at the base, and we'll just climb up as high as we can during the mission and move forward in time in Martian history and see how the environment changed," Wray said.

Gale Crater is ideal, he said because scientists have seen clay minerals and sulfates, both of which which are hydrated, from orbit.

"Basically, you could not have formed at least some of these minerals in some of these stacks of sediments without water," he said. Water is one of the most crucial requirements for life as we know it.

Curiosity is NASA's most advanced rover to date.

And while Wray said the primary objective of the mission is to understand whether ancient Mars once supported life of its own, there are several instruments on the payload that will tell NASA scientists how future astronauts would fare on Martian terrain.

These include a sensor that will measure how much radiation the rover will be exposed to during the mission - a concern for humans since Mars does not have a natural magnetic field like Earth to shield astronauts from harmful cosmic rays.

Other instruments, like Sample Analysis at Mars, which Wray was involved in developing, will get the most detailed analysis of organic matter on the Martian surface available. It will also test the atmosphere for methane, a potentially telling discovery since 98% of methane gas in Earth's atmosphere is created by living bacteria, Wray said. Claims that methane exists in Mars atmosphere are yet unproven.

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Filed under: In Space • Mars
soundoff (89 Responses)
  1. Lynda Birr

    Roller-skating is also a popular sport, and it is even thought that it might soon be added to the Olympics. Skate-parks that have been designed to accommodate the resurgence of skateboarding can also be easily used for roller-skating, and skaters can pull off similar tricks and manoeuvres to skateboarders this way. Roller skate racing is also quite popular, with people competing to get from one side of an obstacle course to the other in the fastest time.'

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    April 12, 2013 at 11:32 am |
  2. wvopnutepo

    The first verdict of chengdu escort 100 points in the other semi-fiftieth

    August 23, 2012 at 4:46 pm |
  3. Tony

    As one contemplates life here on earth one quickly sees that there are so many projects that could take priority of our precious spending dollars; disease, poverty, new energy sources , etc. The list is long, I get that and we should spend money on these things. However I also feel that we should continue to spend significant resources on exploring space. As a species we will continue to solve these short range issues, but we need to keep one eye on the long term continuation of humanity. I worry that we live on only one planet. We are so vulnerable to natural disaster and life is still so fragile. H

    August 5, 2012 at 11:22 am |
  4. Belive

    Yes Deborah, I have fond memories of senieg Mars at it;s closes to Earth in 60,000 yrs. As you have noted, it was August (27 o 28, 2003 ), I viewed it's beauty with my Mother from Cape Brton Islnd, Nov Scotia Canada' East Coast. Wondrful night sky.Thanks' George MacInnis, Big Pond NS, Can.

    August 2, 2012 at 11:44 pm |
  5. w l jones

    That is not a meotrite impact creater most likely a fusion sink hole bubble.... have similar on other barron planet indeed there segiment layers seen in picture could tell a lot about Mars past.

    July 23, 2012 at 4:21 pm |
  6. breeze6839

    The people arguing about the money spent on this project are just as stupid as their argument. When you look at all the other waste of which you NEVER complain about, this is so miniscule and advances science which may lead to more for the human race. Imagine if Columbus would have never set sail because they said it was "too expensive". I'm sure the native Americans would have loved that, but if it wasn't Columbus, it would have been someone else and thats what exactly would happen if we pulled out.

    June 20, 2012 at 9:38 am |
    • athensGuy

      I agree. I prefer to spend money on this, a constructive activity, rather than on the military. This whole mission costs LESS then a single B2 bomber (price tag = $1.3BILLION a piece)

      June 23, 2012 at 11:06 am |
      • Leprakawn

        If you were in charge of the USAF and needed to go drop a payload on some foreign country for doing something horrendous to us, what would you do if there were zero B2 bombers?

        July 7, 2012 at 2:17 am |
    • sonic10158

      I agree 100%

      June 24, 2012 at 4:27 pm |
    • Guess

      Columbus was late to America. The Africans came thousand of years before that loser. Trades were made, knowledges was exchanged and much more. So if Codumbus would have never set sail the world would have been a better place.

      August 6, 2012 at 12:51 pm |
  7. ptsdLOADING

    NASA aka The United States Government does not want to admit to extraterrestrial life until they have no choice. This mission while seemingly public in nature will take on a sinister cover up when and if something is found. I'm just totally sick, embarrassed and complete upset with the US handling of extraterrestrial matters!

    June 17, 2012 at 8:34 am |
    • Raymond

      Yes they always want to have an 'edge' on the public by holding information. You do that when subconciously you know you are ignorant and stupid and want to feel smart by being the only one that knows. Then when it becomes obvious they scramble at the truth to try to regain public confidence which we don't have anyway..

      June 18, 2012 at 8:58 am |
    • Gadlie

      ptsdLOADING, you have a vivid imagination.

      June 24, 2012 at 8:45 pm |
      • Raymond

        The goverment needs to 'feel' they have some edge since they know they don't have it on anything else.

        June 26, 2012 at 8:32 am |
    • SixDegrees

      Well, you're totally sick, anyway.

      August 8, 2012 at 3:53 am |
    • Henry

      What motive could the government possibly have for denying the existence of extraterrestrial life if they had evidence that it existed?

      August 8, 2012 at 6:57 am |
  8. freedomringingnow

    I wonder if they will use the same desert shots where they filmed the supposed moon landing. I would think with High Deff now the faked shots will look more spectacular. :-)

    June 15, 2012 at 8:44 am |
    • Gadlie

      You actually believe that?

      June 24, 2012 at 8:46 pm |
  9. helenecha

    It must be pretty much interesting to see Earth on Mars. So landing Curiosity to a site on Mars where the rover can see our Earth from Mars whatever makes sense, uh? Good luck to Curiosity! Godspeed to every member of all NASA's Rover missions!

    June 15, 2012 at 2:51 am |
  10. The Hero Pablo Escobar

    Hey NASA!!...reality check..no one really cares whats on Mars...what we do care about is the billions that will be spent on this useless money pit. How about we take the money and spend it on putting Americans back too work, roads, bridges, schools, arts and music etc..anything to benifit Americans and America who and which are really hurting...Wow a dune buggy that can scoop up dirt on MARS...in Banning, CA right now they are laying off over 40 teachers...Billion Dollar Dune Buggy not so important...NASA is a waste of precious tax paying dollars.

    June 14, 2012 at 8:13 pm |
    • Keri Ann in Enkhuizen, Holland

      Yes Sir Mr. Escobar..agree with you 110 percent Pablo, why in the World is NASA still around wasting money. Great point take the money NASA waste every Fiscal Year and help the citizens...why can't Washington/Obama/Democrats/Republicans see this, yes they are laying of teachers in San Deigo too.. (SAD)

      June 14, 2012 at 8:19 pm |
      • Girl Band on the Run

        Hi Keri Ann,

        I have often thought if something cost more than a Billion Dollars (especially unnecessary pork projects like this Dune Buggy), Americans should get two weeks to vote on-line on the expense..at the end of two weeks its a go or no go...to simple for Washington I know.

        June 14, 2012 at 8:25 pm |
    • Meyer

      It's a 2.5 Million dollar rover that's .0025 Billion Dollars. Also Boeing is making it here in the U.S.A. Science is important as in reading and not talking out your ass.

      June 14, 2012 at 9:09 pm |
      • cam

        Great Point! If you look at what gets spent on Science and space exploration and you look at what gets spent on bombs and drones to drop those bombs you can see that the cost of this rover is a drop in the bucket.

        June 14, 2012 at 11:13 pm |
      • Gelena

        Yes..Yes... NASA needs to go, its a waste of tax paying dollars that need to be spent right here in America, on more inportant things, who cares if there's gas on Mar's only NASA and a few dozens Nerd, who when they when they are not creaming over pictures of some irrelevant rock out in Space, are viginatly huntiing ebay for their respective Star Wars action fiqurine's. Step one get rid of money hungry NASA. Private Industry can and will do it better. Secondly, the majority of Americans could care less about Mars and this stupid, way to expensive little car. Get real...america needs teachers, Police, Firefigter's, Nurse's etc...

        June 16, 2012 at 1:36 pm |
    • Berto

      No! How could you say such a thing? NASA is one of the last things left that we can look to for inspiration. Leaving the planet.. Does that not spark even a bit of excitement in your soul? NASA is what boggles our minds and set paths for children's dreams and goals, it's what powers the mind. You can't say that isn't important! It is a whole aspect of life that so many have learned about and fell for. Its budget is small enough, what more do you want? Keep your greedy paws away from the dying space agency, it's one of the last innovative aspects of America.

      June 15, 2012 at 1:25 am |
      • Corvette

        Private Industry can always do it better, no one really cares about this huge waste of money, spend it here were the real problems are, the majority of Americans could care less about Mars and the stupid expensive dune buggy

        June 15, 2012 at 10:28 am |
    • Marcus in San Bernadino

      I believe Mr. Ecobar speaks for the Majority of American's. NASA's is no longer needed and way to expensive. Private Companies can always outperform and do jobs cheaper than the Government. Also, Mars not so high on anyone's list of important thing's...when a large number of American's are really hurting..invest right here in America...on Earth, sorry...now I'm making you guys that walk around with pocket protectors and coffee cups all day mad.

      June 16, 2012 at 1:43 pm |
    • T.A. Martin

      ???
      So, Mr. E. The money the government wastes on this project? I suppose NASA stuffs the rocket casing with dollar bills and burns them to lauch the rover? I say "No!" The 'wasted' money goes to pay for science, engineering, and technician jobs in NASA, Boeing, Lockheed-Martin, and many other private sector companies. Look at the recent ending of the Shuttle program – with the funding cut, hundreds of staff lost jobs.
      Without NASA leading the way, how many private companies would ever consider the level of investment needed to start-up and maintain a program of even a tenth the scope of NASA? Besides, without years of 'wasted' government spending in the 50's, 60's, 70's, 80's, 90's, 00's, up to the present day, the companies of today that CAN afford it (Google, Virgin, Microsoft, et.al) would never had existed.

      Here's a pipe.

      Now – smoke it.

      June 17, 2012 at 9:17 am |
    • Oz in OK

      Yep, because all those jobs that Curiosity created don't count... the investments in science don't matter... instead we should just slash the whole NASA program, right? Hey, here's a thought – we don't we start with the U.S. military/DoD FIRST and then go from there, instead of the Teapublican program of slashing everything BUT military spending?

      June 17, 2012 at 9:19 pm |
    • CED5157

      If you had 2 active brain cells you and all the other bleeding hearts would be dangerous. So you think that money could be spent on jobs. Fact; the money is being spent on jobs. It takes lots of very skilled people to put something like the rover on mars. Skilled people to design and make the rover. I know that facts cloud your judgment, but take a closer look at yourself before spouting out your unknowing crap.

      June 19, 2012 at 12:29 pm |
    • Antonio Martinez

      Any ignoramus who hates science should be forced to live without electricity, antibiotics, dentistry, cell phones, the internet, and toilet paper. They all came from science.

      If they hate knowledge, facts, and science so much, why should they benefit from them? Take it away from them, I say.

      That way, they can live in caves with rotting teeth just like the unevolved Republicans they already are.

      If you don't know that basic research yields a treasure trove of scientific fruit for centuries ... you're not qualified to be in the conversation. Go back to your cave.

      June 21, 2012 at 10:07 pm |
    • SixDegrees

      We already allocated more than 500 times what this entire 10 year long project cost for spending on "shovel ready jobs". To date, after four years, nearly half that money remains unspent, although it does remain allocated and still weighs on the deficit.

      August 8, 2012 at 3:54 am |
  11. dotheflippinmath

    We can't all work retail, flip burgers, or count the $$. Production jobs are heading towards complete automation. Science and engineering jobs are the way of the future for the success of humanity.

    June 14, 2012 at 7:44 pm |
    • Raymond

      Not really...you won't beleive how many engineering and science jobs I have been laid off from. The wave is sitting still cause the home team is losing by 10 runs or 30pts or 4 touchdowns.

      June 15, 2012 at 8:40 am |
  12. DuhhhUidiot

    It's all a big scam. There are no rockets or rovers, NASA just builds models of them and films it for the public to see. The tax money is really spent on expensive homes and parties throughout the week.

    June 14, 2012 at 4:38 pm |
    • Chocolate cupcakes

      Can you imagine china doing something like this? Trying to answer questions about the universe. china only values technology thst aids its military. Everything else is a waste of time according to them.

      June 14, 2012 at 6:05 pm |
      • digit

        China has been building its own space station and is close to launching a manned vechile to it.
        where have you been?

        June 19, 2012 at 1:31 am |
      • Raymond

        China like Cuba( not significant) and North Korea are the last communist. Just like the USSR they will be extinct. Very easy to eliminate with Rock&Roll, blue jeans and T-shirts and when their youth decides between music/freedom/comfort or a cold tank in the snow. The system beats itself.

        June 19, 2012 at 8:55 am |
  13. SparkBunny

    While i do agree that Europa is defintely a much better place for expansion, it's much too far right now for us to be able to explore it. Don't forget that it is much more difficult to navigate to the far reaches of our solar system using the technology we have right now. If you look at the expansion of the western world on our own planet, we colonized what was closest to us first, before founding colonies on the most remote regions. We need mars to learn how to become an interstellar species, because we are going to make mistakes and learn from them just like every human endeavor. Jumping immediately to Europa is putting the cart before the horse. Or the living quarters before the ion engine.

    June 14, 2012 at 2:34 pm |
  14. Caveman

    I think everyone is missing the point here... The reality of it is, nobody knows anything about Mars, except what this little rover can see and analyze. How can any of you speculate on that which you don't know about? .. Let the rover and the people who administer it, do their jobs and the rest of you keep an open mind. There's not telling what you're gonna find on that planet. It's afterall.. a whole "other" planet that has never been stepped foot on by Earth humans.

    June 14, 2012 at 12:42 pm |
    • cucotx

      You're soooooo naive! ... Everyone knows that our military has had a presence there for years.

      Why do you think the Russians have been successful with missions to Venus but not to Mars ... I'll tell you why ... Because we don't want them to share what there is on Mars ...

      Mars is the ultimate camping site for many an ET.

      So now, where did I put my medicine again so they won't bring out the straight jackets! lol

      June 14, 2012 at 1:58 pm |
  15. Gabe

    By no means am I a meteoricist or someone that analysis the formation of craters left behind from fallen craters, however I couldnt help but notice the odd shape of the object left inside the crater. Prometheus anyone.

    June 14, 2012 at 12:09 pm |
    • Gabe

      Dough! that second craters should be objects.

      June 14, 2012 at 12:11 pm |
  16. Spaghetti Monster (not to be confused with the Great Flying Spaghetti Monster)

    Wow, "will shave several months off Curiosity's drive" Any chance they can improve my 5 o'clock commute home? I'm just hoping to shave 10 min off that, should be easy.....

    June 14, 2012 at 11:56 am |
  17. Paul

    This is the type of stuff I love from NASA. I usually bookmark the NASA website for Spirit and Opportunity and followed them for YEARSSS. Loved those little rovers. This will be just as awesome!

    June 14, 2012 at 11:54 am |
  18. focusontheoikos

    Perhaps we should look for life as we DON'T know it?

    June 14, 2012 at 11:51 am |
    • Scott

      Very true. Well said. Life on another planet as in different environments even here on earth often develops in spectacularly suprising ways. We have found life in places we thought it impossible to find and thriving in ways we did not imagine possible.

      June 14, 2012 at 2:27 pm |
  19. Henry

    I'm in favor of robotic exploration of the solar system, but this obsession with Mars being a haven for life, past or present, is a poor bet. The dollars would be better spent sending a probe to the Jovian moon Europa. Europa, unlike Mars, has a magnetic field (good for life) and we know for a fact that it's surface is frozen water. We also know that it has a subsurface ocean of liquid water (essential for life). There have been proposals to send a probe that can melt through the surface and get to the ocean beneath, but so far gigantic amounts of money continue to be diverted to studying this dry, dead, red rock known as Mars.

    June 14, 2012 at 11:33 am |
    • Chris

      I agree the more likely place is Europa, however the cost of a mission to Jupiter is much higher. On Mars we are looking at the surface, Europa we have to drill through who knows how much ice. Also we have to be very careful we don't contaminate the Europan environment with any Earth bacteria. And remember the warning at the end of 2010
      "ALL THESE WORLDS ARE YOURS—EXCEPT EUROPA. ATTEMPT NO LANDINGS THERE"

      June 14, 2012 at 11:47 am |
      • Andrew

        Wait. What warning?

        June 14, 2012 at 3:38 pm |
      • Cindy Maddy

        Dernit, you beat me to it. I remember the write-up more than a year ago about a body of ice in the Arctic, I beleive, and how they had to halt exploratory probing for fear of introducing contamination; there was mention of Europa in that article, I beleive, in the same context.

        June 14, 2012 at 5:05 pm |
    • kls817

      I agree. I think that NASA keeps hyping the search for life as a means to get more public interest and therefore more money for their projects. They have been doing this for years.

      June 14, 2012 at 2:18 pm |
      • Henry

        Yes, NASA does that, but so does every other group that lives off of the the public dime. It is the nature of bureaucracy to justify not only its existence, but it's growth. Within the Nasa bureaucracy there are specific entrenched interests that fight over available funds at the expense of other projects within the agency. The Mars guys seem to be winning the battle so far. I'd like to see a strong-handed administrator put a hold on any more Mars rovers after the curiosity mission so more ambitious and potentially far more rewarding science can be done on other worlds.

        June 14, 2012 at 5:19 pm |
  20. paul

    don,t forget another galaxy is hurrdleing to wards ours in three billion years we will be toast, GHEEZ lets get out of here,

    June 14, 2012 at 11:20 am |
    • Cedar Rapids

      just dont tell my wife she can pack a small case to take with her else we'll still be here when it hits.

      June 14, 2012 at 11:52 am |
    • cucotx

      I'm planning to freeze my body after death so I can come back once they find out how to fix whatever killed me ... I'll just have to remember to write a note to wake me up BEFORE Andromeda slams into us.

      June 14, 2012 at 12:31 pm |
      • Vader

        Hopefully, by that time humans have found a way to get out of the Milky Way before Andromeda hits us...maybe, leave a note for them reminding them to take your body with them and and resurrect you in the new galaxy.

        June 14, 2012 at 4:28 pm |
  21. Ron

    We need to find other planets to colonize! that way all of the intelligent beings could leave this rock, Thier isn't much intelligence here, Just read these comments!!!

    June 14, 2012 at 11:04 am |
    • Fototherapist

      There

      June 14, 2012 at 11:29 am |
      • Vikash

        the epic squares bewteen Uranus and Pluto is the red planet Mars. If you are an early riser, you can see Mars in the pre-dawn sky, shining near the twin stars Castor and Pollux. Morning sky planets are relatively ‘young’ in

        August 3, 2012 at 12:03 am |
  22. Jeff

    "if they were once carved by oceans, lakes or air."

    It isn't what "CARVED" the sedimentary rocks. It's the conditions in which they were DEPOSITED that are relevant to the presence of life.

    June 14, 2012 at 10:58 am |
    • Rich

      Don't confuse the science writer.

      June 14, 2012 at 12:34 pm |
  23. Steve

    "Claims that methane exists in Mars atmosphere are yet unproven." Methane is proven to exist in Mars' atmoshphere. There was a question as to its origin – biological or not. It was recently found to not be biological.

    June 14, 2012 at 10:52 am |
    • Sophia Dengo

      Hi Steve,

      Our Mars expert, James Wray, tells us that there reputable scientists come down on both sides of the methane-on-Mars issue: some believe they've identified methane on the planet, while others argue (some, in peer-reviewed papers) that methane has *not* been found on Mars.
      As far as the biological origin of any possible methane, James says, "...a first step toward determining that would be to measure the carbon isotope ratio for Martian methane (i.e., how much of the CH4 is C-13, with an extra neutron, vs. the typical C-12), which Curiosity can do, but even this probably won't be definitive."

      So in short, methane on Mars is still an open question, but if there is methane, scientists won't know definitively whether or not it's biological in origin until further studies - beyond Curiosity's mission - can be done.

      Thanks for reading!
      Sophia Dengo, CNN.com

      June 14, 2012 at 12:11 pm |
  24. Leprakawn

    Sophia, how about these two other mistakes, which I sent to the CNN editor.

    "a concern for humans since Mars does not have"
    "a potentially telling discovery since Wray said"

    Since relates to time; thus, the first instance should be changed to 'because,' and the second could be changed to 'as.'

    June 14, 2012 at 10:52 am |
    • Raymond

      They just like the word Since, since they are since confused.

      June 14, 2012 at 11:01 am |
    • Sophia Dengo

      Hi Leprakawn,

      In these instances, “since” is being used appropriately — while it does indeed relate to time, it is also an acceptable synonym to “as” or “because” when used as a conjunction in a sentence.

      Thanks for reading!
      Sophia

      June 14, 2012 at 11:28 am |
    • jamesrechtet

      The first instance of the use of the word since was just fine. You just need a better dictionary is all.

      June 14, 2012 at 11:29 am |
  25. Raymond

    Hope this thing doen't tumble while climbing up and all you get is a belly-up RC toy.

    June 14, 2012 at 10:49 am |
  26. MrId

    These names are lame. They should be something like "Conquer", "Robotic Death", or "Bigfoot".

    June 14, 2012 at 10:43 am |
    • Raymond

      I would of named them all Rover I, Rover II, Rover III, etc. etc......Hey we keep track of the SuperBowl with Roman Numerials...why nor keep track of these?

      June 14, 2012 at 10:53 am |
      • Adrian

        I have seen Mars this A.M. 2:40 to be exact. It is East of the moon. It is Red and Very Bright. Thanks It looks almost like the pitrcue above, from April 2010. This is al happening in my back yard. As I look up at the night skies. Loved the Article on the Hoax. About Mars and the Moon. Seriously; does everybody beleive in those? Sincerely; Mrs. Wedge.

        August 2, 2012 at 11:52 pm |
    • Cedar Rapids

      ...the Mars rover, 'Megatron', today arrived at the crater....

      June 14, 2012 at 11:54 am |
  27. Sam

    The other rover is named "Spirit," not "Exploration." The Spirit and Opportunity rovers compose the Mars Exploration Mission.

    June 14, 2012 at 10:40 am |
    • Sophia Dengo

      You're right, and I've corrected the mistake. Thanks for reading!
      Sophia Dengo, CNN.com

      June 14, 2012 at 10:43 am |
    • Raymond

      Well Ms. Dengo give him a part-time editing job at CNN and forget the thanks.

      June 14, 2012 at 10:56 am |
  28. Zoglet

    I suggest they attempt to find intelligent life here on earth before launching this glorified roller skate to mars!

    June 14, 2012 at 10:39 am |
    • Neko

      Curiosity is not a bad thing. You never know what helpful information you can learn.

      June 14, 2012 at 10:54 am |
  29. Leprakawn

    Curiosity's predecessors were Spirit and Opportunity.

    June 14, 2012 at 10:36 am |

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