Mission Overview and Scientific Contributions from the Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity Rover After Eight Years of Surface OperationsOPEN ACCESS 

Ashwin R. Vasavadain

Space Science Reviews
218, Article number: 14 (2022)
Published: 05 April 2022

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“NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory mission, with its Curiosity rover, has been exploring Gale crater (5.4° S, 137.8° E) since 2012 with the goal of assessing the potential of Mars to support life. The mission has compiled compelling evidence that the crater basin accumulated sediment transported by marginal rivers into lakes that likely persisted for millions of years approximately 3.6 Ga ago in the early Hesperian. Geochemical and mineralogical assessments indicate that environmental conditions within this timeframe would have been suitable for sustaining life, if it ever were present. Fluids simultaneously circulated in the subsurface and likely existed through the dry phases of lake bed exposure and aeolian deposition, conceivably creating a continuously habitable subsurface environment that persisted to less than 3 Ga in the early Amazonian. A diversity of organic molecules has been preserved, though degraded, with evidence for more complex precursors. Solid samples show highly variable isotopic abundances of sulfur, chlorine, and carbon. In situ studies of modern wind-driven sediment transport and multiple large and active aeolian deposits have led to advances in understanding bedform development and the initiation of saltation. Investigation of the modern atmosphere and environment has improved constraints on the timing and magnitude of atmospheric loss, revealed the presence of methane and the crater’s influence on local meteorology, and provided measurements of high-energy radiation at Mars’ surface in preparation for future crewed missions. Rover systems and science instruments remain capable of addressing all key scientific objectives. Emphases on advance planning, flexibility, operations support work, and team culture have allowed the mission team to maintain a high level of productivity in spite of declining rover power and funding.”