Curiosity on Mars

The successful landing of the US robotic rover Curiosity on the surface of Mars on Monday is considered by scientists to be the most important space exploration event after the landing on the moon in 1969. There have been as many as six earlier landing missions to Mars but what makes Curiosity’s trip special is the new, risky and adventurous landing technique employed for it, the long two-year sojourn it will have on the planet, the important experiments it will conduct there and expectations that the search will throw light on the question whether life existed on it. Some even hope that it may find evidence of microbial life of some form existing deep down in the entrails of the planet. The success of the landing technique was an important achievement for Nasa scientists because it will make future endeavours of this kind much easier. They had actually called the landing time “seven minutes of terror’’ because of doubts and fears about whether the new method would work at all.

Curiosity has now set itself up on the surface and started sending pictures. Scientists hope to understand Mars much better from the images and information it is likely to send in the coming months. Its predecessors had confirmed that water once existed on the surface of Mars, though it is barren and cold now. The presumption is that life could have existed there since water is its most important basis. The rover will also look for other chemical elements and compounds which are necessary for life. It has landed in a deep crater near the equator, called the Gale Crater, from where a high mountain rises, which is considered to be the best place to look for evidence of past life.

The red planet has always excited human imagination, and even a “war of the worlds’’ between the two neighbours was imagined by HG Wells. Out of 41 missions sent to Mars till now, only 15 have been successful in some ways. Curiosity is the biggest and most complex, with an expenditure tag of $2.5 billion. It will be followed by other expeditions and a major project in 2020 which may lead to a manned mission. India has also planned a Mars mission next year, which will make the country part of a six-member Mars club. It is a new frontier where we may get a peak into the earth’s  greatest mystery and man’s future.

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