“NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity has now been trundling across the Red Planet for three very productive and eventful years.
Curiosity landed on the night of Aug. 5, 2012, pulling off a dramatic and unprecedented touchdown with the aid of a rocket-powered “sky crane” that lowered the 1-ton rover gently to the Martian surface via cables.
The six-wheeled robot then set out to determine if its immediate environs — a 96-mile-wide (154 kilometers) crater named Gale — could ever have supported microbial life. That find and more are regaled in a new NASA video on Curiosity’s discoveries on the Red Planet. [Latest Amazing Mars Photos by Curiosity]
Curiosity quickly succeeded in this main task. The rover’s observations of rocks at an area near its landing site called Yellowknife Bay allowed mission scientists to deduce that Gale Crater supported a potentially habitable lake-and-stream system for long stretches in the ancient past — perhaps for millions of years at a time.
Curiosity departed the Yellowknife Bay area in July 2013, making tracks toward the foothills of the towering Mount Sharp, which rises 3.4 miles (5.5 km) into the Martian sky from Gale’s center.
Mount Sharp’s base has been Curiosity’s primary destination since before the $2.5 billion mission’s November 2011 launch. The rover team wants Curiosity to climb up through the mountain’s lower reaches, reading a history of Mars’ changing environmental conditions in the rocks along the way.”