Curiosity Press Conference: NASA's Rover Headed To Mount Sharp, Life On Mars Still Unproven [REPORT]

By iScienceTimes Staff on June 5, 2013 11:30 AM EDT

Mars curiosity rover
The Curiosity rover will head to Mount Sharp in the coming weeks. This artist's concept shows the Curiosity rover examining a rock on Mars with a set of tools at the end of its 7-foot arm. (Photo: NASA / JPL-Caltech)

In a telephone conference today, NASA announced that the Mars Science Laboratory mission is approaching its biggest turning point since landing the Curiosity rover on Mars last summer.

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The 10-month-old mission has hit "full stride," said Jim Erickson, Mars Science Laboratory project manager at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

Curiosity has been working on one area for six months, where the drilling of a second rock target "went real smooth," said Joe Melko at JPL, because of lessons learned from the drilling of the first target.

The rover will now drive to drive five miles away, to Mount Sharp, a journey that will take about 10 months. But like any road trip, there may some time allotted for roadside attractions.

Joy Crisp, deputy project scientist for Curiosity, said that if the Curiosity rover encountered anything compelling along the way, they would check it out. So it may be a little longer than 10 months before the rover reaches its next destination.

"We don't know when we'll get to Mount Sharp," said Erickson. "This truly is a mission of exploration, so just because our end goal is Mount Sharp doesn't mean we're not going to investigate interesting features along the way."

Images of Mount Sharp taken from orbit, in addition to images Curiosity has taken from a distance, have led the scientists to believe that they may find evidence of how the environment of Mars evolved. 

Before Curiosity leaves Glenelg, the current area, the team has chosen a few targets for observation, among them a layered outcrop called they've dubbed Shaler and another outcrop that NASA is calling Point Lake.

"Shaler might be a river deposit," said Crisp. "Point Lake might be volcanic or sedimentary. A closer look at them could give us better understanding of how the rocks we sampled with the drill fit into the history of how the environment changed."

Erickson also said that the mobility system, drill and all hardware is in "pretty good shape."

As was inevitable, on reporter brought up Mars rat. Crisp laughed off the idea, and said that the scientists are amused by the Mars rat speculation, but that they don't spend much time thinking about it.

But there is an upside to stories like the Mars rat, Crisp pointed out: fun stories like that make the the public aware of their mission, and draw them in.

The Curiosity has driven over 733 meters of Martian surface to date. Its mission was originally scheduled to last two years, but at the end of 2012 the rover's mission was extended indefinitely.

Alas, today's conference did not reveal the discovery of life on Mars.

READ MORE:

Mars Rounded Pebbles: Do Rocks Discovered By NASA Indicate An Ancient River?

Mars Voyage Radiation: How Large Is Threat To Astronauts?

Mars Rover Penis Drawing: Does NASA's Rover Have A Crude Sense Of Humor? [NSFW PHOTO] 

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