Though Curiosity has been scooping up Martian dirt and shooting rocks with lasers for months, she is about to conduct some serious drilling at the base of Mount Sharp, where scientists believe the story of the Red Planet‘s mysterious history may rest.
Mount Sharp is a defining Martian landmark. Located in the ancient Gale Crater, the mountain rises nearly more than three miles — taller than any mountain in the 48 contiguous states of the United States. Curiosity began the five-mile trek to Mount Sharp over a year ago.
It’s like looking at the layers of the Grand Canyon.
It’s like looking at the layers of the Grand Canyon. [It preserved] the record of how things were in past and how they have changed,” Joy Crisp, deputy project scientist for Curiosity, told Mashable last year when the rover began her journey.
NASA scientists didn’t have a timeline when Curiosity first began driving to Mount Sharp. “Just because our end goal is Mount Sharp doesn’t mean we’re not going to investigate interesting features along the way,” Crisp said.
However, a scientific review panel criticized the Curiosity team for an extended mission that involves too much driving and too little sampling. On Thursday, project scientist John Grotzinger promised that the team would “do a lot more drilling” now that the rover has made it to the base of the mountain.
Mount Sharp will be a drill-and-discovery mission for Curiosity, and her ChemCam instrument — a feature Curiosity has used thousands of times to zap rocks from a distance — will prove important because it will allow scientists to analyze targets otherwise out of reach.
Although her wheels are a bit worn, the $2.5 billion Curiosity remains healthy overall.