See NASA’s Curiosity Rover Climb Mt. Sharp From Orbit

NASA’s Mars Curiosity rover is the blue, bug-like feature in the center of the scene on the northwestern flank of Mt. Sharp. Curiosity is about 10 feet long and 9 feet wide (3 x 2.8 meters). When the photo was taken on June 5 (Sol 1717). Curiosity was partway between its investigation of active sand dunes lower on Mount Sharp, and an uphill destination where the rover team intends to examine hematite outcrops. The rover’s surroundings include tan rocks and patches of dark sand. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

It’s been almost five years since NASA’s Curiosity rover landed on Mars to investigate whether the planet’s past climate could potentially sustain life. Now we know the answer — Yes! Rolling along hills, dunes and rock-littered landscapes, the rover snaps and sends postcards of its travels every day. I should say every Sol, the name given to the Martian day which is 37 minutes longer than Earth’s.  Clicking through the photos on the raw image site,  it’s easy to imagine what it would be like to don a spacesuit and hike across a crater on the Red Planet.

Person-eye view of the Martian landscape showing drifted sand, layered rocks and distant buttes, photographed on June 5, (Sol 1717). Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

In all that time, you’d expect a machine to run into a few problems, and it has: dirt gumming up the drill,  aluminum wheels chewed up by rocks and nerve-wracking computer memory glitches. Yet there Curiosity stands, 242 million miles from home, tiny but triumphant in its bleak, mountainside surrounding, a testament to human ingenuity and the good we can do working together.

Exposures of sedimentary rock on Mars partially covered in drifted sand seen on June 5, 2017. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

The photo of the rover climbing Mt. Sharp was taken by the powerful camera/telescope on NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter earlier this month. The car-size rover, climbing up lower Mount Sharp toward its next destination, appears as a blue bead against a background of tan rocks and dark sand in the enhanced-color image. The exaggerated color, showing differences in Mars surface materials, makes Curiosity appear bluer than it really looks.

The rover pulled up near this impressive rock formation on June 15, 2017. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

When the image was taken, Curiosity was partway between its investigation of active sand dunes lower on Mount Sharp, and “Vera Rubin Ridge,” a destination uphill where the rover team intends to examine outcrops where hematite has been identified from Mars orbit. Hematite, an iron oxide, is often associated with water and can settle out in hot springs or standing pools of water. Or it may have been created in volcanic processes. Curiosity will be there, backed up by the mission team, to find out which may have been at play.

This map shows Curiosity’s traverse up Mt. Sharp through June 5, 2017. The photo of the rover from orbit was taken at the “1717” mark at the bottom. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech