In this interactive activity adapted from NASA, explore the onboard equipment and technologies that will help Curiosity, the latest Mars rover, meet its primary mission goal: to search for evidence of life. To achieve this, Curiosity will employ high-resolution stereoscopic cameras, spectrometers, chromatographs, environmental monitoring sensors, communications antennas, and a radiation detector, all of which you can explore in this activity.
It's easy to understand why scientists are so fascinated by Mars: it’s the most Earthlike planet in our solar system. NASA has sent several missions to investigate Mars since the 1970s. It has used satellites to survey the planet from above, and spacecraft to explore the surface. But when spacecraft land, they essentially remain in place. To enhance surface exploration, NASA has developed robotic motor vehicles called rovers.
So far, NASA has landed three rovers on Mars. Their designs and scientific equipment have varied from mission to mission. During the Mars Pathfinder mission that launched in 1996, the "microrover" Sojourner carried three instruments to examine properties of the soils, rocks, and crust and learn more about the planet’s past environmental conditions. The Mars Exploration Rover mission, launched in 2003, carried two rovers, Spirit and Opportunity. Using high-resolution panoramic cameras, microscopic imagers to see surface features close-up, and robotic arms, these rovers found lots of evidence that Mars was once a warmer place with liquid water and not just ice on its surface. For the next mission to Mars, scheduled to launch in late 2011, NASA has designed a rover, named Curiosity, for a new goal: to investigate whether Mars has—or has ever had—the ability to support life.
Over the course of one Martian year (about 23 Earth months) after landing, Curiosity will analyze and explore more than any previous Mars rover. It possesses many features used in earlier rovers but is much larger and capable of carrying more instruments—10 in all. These fall into four categories:
While much of the technology behind these instruments has been applied before, Curiosity does have something novel: the ability to not only collect samples of rocks and soil but to analyze them as well. This makes Curiosity in effect a large, mobile laboratory.
As it investigates surface features near its landing site, inside Gale crater, Curiosity’s instruments will gather important information about the planet’s past conditions. Gale crater is an impact crater whose rock layers might contain evidence of a number of diverse environments that existed over millions of years. In the course of its work, Curiosity may detect forms of carbon, the chemical building blocks of life. While finding carbon compounds—known as organics—would not prove the existence of life, scientists know that life cannot exist without them.
Before the Interactive
After the interactive
Academic standards correlations on Teachers' Domain use the Achievement Standards Network (ASN) database of state and national standards, provided to NSDL projects courtesy of JES & Co.
We assign reference terms to each statement within a standards document and to each media resource, and correlations are based upon matches of these terms for a given grade band. If a particular standards document of interest to you is not displayed yet, it most likely has not yet been processed by ASN or by Teachers' Domain. We will be adding social studies and arts correlations over the coming year, and also will be increasing the specificity of alignment.