Exploring the Planets

Mars Rovers: Curiosity

The Mars Science Laboratory rover, named Curiosity, set down in Gale Crater in August 2012. Gale Crater is 150 kilometers (about 90 miles) in diameter and contains a large central mound 5 kilometers (3 miles) high. The mound is made up of many different rock layers that record the geologic history of the area and may tell the story of environmental change over millions of years of Mars' history. Early in its mission, the rover found signs of a past lake at Gale Crater, and evidence that the ancient environment in the area could have supported life.

A full-scale model is on display in the Museum in Washington, DC.
Transferred from NASA/JPL-Caltech

Curiosity Self-Portrait at 'Mojave'

Curiosity self-portrait at the 'Mojave' site on Mount Sharp.

A New Way to Land

Weighing in at over 900 kilograms (2,000 pounds), Curiosity could not use the conventional airbag system that facilitated the landing of previous Mars rovers. Instead, an innovative technology called the "Sky Crane" performed a powered descent with Curiosity suspended beneath it. When computers detected that the rover was touching the ground, the connection was severed and the Sky Crane intentionally crashed a safe distance from Curiosity. The Sky Crane landing system offered a precise way to land a heavy rover.

<em>Curiosity's</em> Sky Crane Maneuver

Gale Crater

Curiosity landed in Gale Crater in August 2012. Gale Crater is 154 kilometers (96 miles) in diameter. The crater is 3.5-3.8 billion years old and may have once held water. Since landing, Curiosity has traveled roughly 11.6 km (7 mi) across the crater as of August 2015.

Gale Crater

Image of Gale Crater with Curiosity's approximate landing area outlined in the black ellipse.

Map of <em>Curiosity’s</em> Route

Map of Curiosity's route through Gale Crater. The numbers along the route represent the number of Martian days (called Sols) that have passed since landing.

Climbing Mount Sharp

Curiosity's primary destination within Gale Crater is the 5.5 km (3.3 mi)-high Mount Sharp. It will not climb to the summit, but it has ascended the mountain's lower slopes. See how Mount Sharp compares to other locations on Earth.

Mars Landing Site Panorama

Curiosity looks from its landing site towards Mount Sharp in this white-balanced image.

Terrain Types on Mount Sharp

From an elevated position on Mount Sharp, Curiosity observes the mountain's terrain.