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Curiosity: Mars Science Laboratory

We have followed the water on Mars and found it. Now we are following our curiosity in search of the answer to a really big question: Are their places that could have supported — or still support — life on Mars? It's a big question requiring a bold rover. — NASA

Mission Status: Sept. 27, 2012, 5:04 p.m. CDT (2204 GMT)

On the road to Glenelg...

Curiosity has driven a quarter-mile (416 meters) from Bradbury Landing, where it touched down in Mars's Gale Crater, on its way to Glenelg. The rover is about halfway to its first targeted science destination, but along the way has tested its robotic arm's instruments, gazed up at Mars' two moons and touched its first rock (named "Jake Matijevic" for the rover's surface operations systems chief engineer who died Aug. 20 at 64).

Curiosity also found evidence that a stream once ran vigorously across the area on Mars where it is driving.

There's earlier evidence for water on Mars, but this evidence, images of rocks containing ancient streambed gravels, is the first of its kind.

"We can interpret the water was moving about 3 feet per second, with a depth somewhere between ankle and hip deep," said Curiosity science co-investigator William Dietrich of the University of California, Berkeley. "Plenty of papers have been written about channels on Mars with many different hypotheses about the flows in them. This is the first time we're actually seeing water-transported gravel on Mars."

The discovery comes from examining two outcrops, called "Hottah" and "Link" with the telephoto capability of Curiosity's mast-mounted camera during the first 40 days after landing. Those observations followed up on earlier hints from another outcrop, which was exposed by Curiosity's landing thrusters.

"A long-flowing stream can be a habitable environment," Mars Science Laboratory project scientist John Grotzinger, with the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, Calif., said. "It is not our top choice as an environment for preservation of organics... but this is insurance that we have already found our first potentially habitable environment."

First contact

Curiosity touched its first Martian rock, "Jake Matijevic," with its robotic arm on Sept. 22, assessing its chemical elements.

After a short drive to get within an arm's reach of the football-size rock, Curiosity put its Alpha Particle X-Ray Spectrometer (APXS) instrument in contact with the rock during the rover's 46th Martian day, or sol. The APXS is on a turret at the end of the rover's 7-foot (2.1-meter) arm. The Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI), on the same turret, was also used for close-up inspection of the rock.

The Chemistry and Camera (ChemCam) instrument, which shoots laser pulses at a target from the top of Curiosity's mast, also assessed what chemical elements are in Jake Matijevic.

With a last laser test of the rock on Sol 48 (Sept. 24), Curiosity finished its work on the rock. The rover departed the same sol.

Signature mission

Two days before leaving its mark on Jake Matijevic, Curiosity returned a photo of a different type of signature: the autograph of the President of the United States.

The image revealed a 3.94 by 3.23 inch (100 by 82 millimeter) anodized aluminum plaque affixed to the rover's deck bearing several signatures of U.S. officials, including President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden.

Related reading and reference websites

NASA's Mars Science Laboratory
MSL Fact Sheet (PDF)
Mars Science Lab on Facebook
@MarsCuriosity on Twitter
  Jet Propulsion Laboratory: MSL
Eyes on Solar System (live data) (Outreach)
MSL coverage on

Feature Articles

August 28, 2012
Signals from Mars: NASA's Curiosity rover radios song in music first

NASA's Mars rover Curiosity has sent back a new type of radio signal from the surface of the Red Planet: pop music. The car-size rover radioed the world — or rather because it spanned two planets, worlds — premiere of a single by musician

August 22, 2012
NASA's Mars rover Curiosity leaves coded tracks on first test drive

NASA's Curiosity Mars rover has left its first tracks in the Martian soil, leaving the coded mark of its maker in its trail. On Aug. 22, the car-size, six-wheeled rover took its first test drive since arriving on the Red Planet more than two weeks ago.

August 19, 2012
LEGO may make Mars rover Curiosity toy after 10,000 fans vote

NASA's Curiosity rover has achieved a giant leap toward becoming an official LEGO toy. A build-it-yourself model of the car-size, six wheeled rover that is now on the Red Planet received its 10,000th vote of support on the LEGO CUUSOO website.

August 10, 2012
How to build a Lego Mars Curiosity rover

Before NASA's Curiosity rover lifted off last fall, an engineer who helped build the Mars Science Laboratory launched his attempt at getting LEGO to produce a toy model of the rover. Eight months later, the real rover has touched down, but Stephen Pakbaz's LEGO Curiosity hasn't landed on store shelves.

August 6, 2012
NASA's Curiosity lands on Mars: Car-size rover to seek signs of life-friendly land

NASA has a new science lab on Mars. The car-size Curiosity rover touched down safely on the Red Planet following an eight month cruise from the Earth to Mars and a seven minute unprecedented entry and descent to the surface of a Martian crater.

August 5, 2012
Pass the peanuts: Landing day arrives for NASA's Mars rover Curiosity

On the long checklist leading up to the Aug. 6 landing of NASA's Curiosity rover on Mars most of what is left to do will be handled by the spacecraft's computers. The flight team will have little to do but wait for signals from the rover. That, and eat peanuts.

August 1, 2012
Hot Wheels on Mars: Mattel to land NASA Curiosity rover on toy store shelves

Soon after NASA's Curiosity rover lands and becomes the hottest set of wheels on Mars, it will debut as the latest Hot Wheels to land on toy store shelves. Mattel, makers of the die-cast line of Hot Wheels cars, is ready to release the car-size Curiosity in 1:64 scale.

February 7, 2012
Penny payload: NASA Mars rover Curiosity carries coin for camera checkup

A penny in today's economy doesn't go very far, but that has not prevented NASA from making one 1-cent piece stretch all the way to another planet: Mars. The copper coin is attached to a smartphone-size plaque at the end of the robotic arm on Curiosity, NASA's Mars Science Laboratory car-size rover.

November 26, 2011
NASA's Curiosity rover flying to Mars with Obama's, others' autographs on board

NASA's Mars Science Laboratory – with its car-size Curiosity rover – is on a 352 million mile journey to the red planet. Outfitted with the most advanced scientific gear ever sent to Mars, the rover is also equipped with its own autograph collection.

August 15, 2011
Last look at NASA's car-size rover before trip to Mars

NASA's next Mars rover, the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) Curiosity, has passed its functional tests and is now being packed to fly to the Red Planet. Targeted to liftoff Nov. 25, Curiosity was shown to the media inside its clean room.