By Bob Duncan
The Mars Curiosity Rover has ‘phoned home’ to NASA scientists and sent them a postcard of nearby Mount Sharp.
In spoken words radioed to the rover on Mars then back to NASA’s Deep Space Network (DSN) on Earth, NASA Administrator Charles Bolden noted the difficulty of landing a rover on Mars, congratulated NASA employees and partners on the successful landing of Curiosity earlier this month, and said curiosity is what drives humans to explore.
In the recorded message, Bolden said: “The knowledge we hope to gain from our observation and analysis of Gale Crater will tell us much about the possibility of life on Mars as well as the past and future possibilities for our own planet.
“Curiosity will bring benefits to Earth and inspire a new generation of scientists and explorers, as it prepares the way for a human mission in the not too distant future.”
Although voice messages and radio communications from the Moon became almost commonplace in the late 1960s and early 1970s, this is the first time a human voice has been transmitted between the Earth and another planet.
Dave Lavery, NASA Curiosity program executive said: “With this voice, another small step is taken in extending human presence beyond Earth, and the experience of exploring remote worlds is brought a little closer to us all.
“As Curiosity continues its mission, we hope these words will be an inspiration to someone alive today who will become the first to stand upon the surface of Mars. And like the great Neil Armstrong, they will speak aloud of that next giant leap in human exploration.”
Telephoto images, or ‘postcards’, which were also beamed back to Earth show a scene of eroded knobs and gulches on a mountainside, with geological layering clearly exposed.
The new views were taken by the 100-millimeter telephoto lens and the 34-millimeter wide angle lens of the Mast Camera (Mastcam) instrument.
Mastcam has photographed the lower slope of the nearby mountain called Mount Sharp or Mons Aeolis.
“This is an area on Mount Sharp where Curiosity will go,” said Mastcam principal investigator Michael Malin. “Those layers are our ultimate objective.”
Curiosity has also stretched its robotic arm, and taken its first steps away from the landing site, which the team last week named ‘Bradbury Landing’ after science fiction author Ray Bradbury.
A drive early on Monday placed Curiosity directly over a patch of Martian ground where one of the spacecraft’s landing engines had scoured away a few inches of gravelly soil to expose the underlying rock.
Researchers plan to use a neutron-shooting instrument on the rover to check for water molecules bound into minerals at this partially excavated target.
Curiosity is already returning more data from the Martian surface than have all of NASA’s earlier rovers combined.
Hear Charles Bolden’s voice transmitted from Mars