There's a party up on Mars Tuesday, as NASA's 'Curiosity' rover celebrates its one-year anniversary of landing on the Red Planet. (And when we say 'celebrate,' we mean 'rolls about clunkily and picks up dirt.')
As far as first years go, its been a good one for the most sophisticated "Mars rover" to date. Curiosity's website has seen the biggest surge in Internet traffic in NASA history, President Obama's an exultant fan, and along the way, the rover's made a gigantic contribution to space science.
Considering that the world has plans to deliver humans to Mars within ten years (and live-stream the whole damn thing) you better believe Curiosity has come, seen, and conquered at a good time.
Here are some highlights of Curiosity's last year: (Mars Rover, This Is Your Life.)
Its landing sparked "Seven Minutes Of Terror," and propelled a Mohawk to Internet fame.
Curiosity's landing technique was experimental: a crane lowered it onto Mars, and then hopped off and deliberately crashed and burned. NASA says that this could, technically, work as a method to get humans onto the planet's surface.
Space geeks the world over (plus giant crowds in Times Square) gripped the edge of their seats as Curiosity gently bumped down on the Red Planet. You can watch the nail-biting season premiere here:
As the world kept its eye on NASA's scientists, something caught their eye: A red-and-blue mohawk. Systems engineer Bobak Ferdowsi apparently changes his hairstyle for every new space mission, and Curiosity sparked a hell of a 'do.
When NBC News interviewed Ferdowsi, he was more than a little confused. "I'm still just getting over the 'We're on Mars' thing," he pointed out. "That's the thing I can't believe."
Ferdowsi was later invited to President Obama's inauguration parade. He announced that he was thrilled to be invited, and would be sporting a new hairstyle for the occasion.
Curiosity discovered that humans might be able to live on Mars after all.
Not to state the obvious, but humans have adapted to Earth, and their bodies don't tend to mix well with other planets. Curiosity beamed back good news: radiation levels were lower than expected, meaning that astronauts might not have lasting damage from the roundtrip.
Additionally, the rover stumbled across what was once a stream, which implies that there is (or once was) water on the Red Planet. Considering life tends to exist wherever water does, this was very good news.
Curiosity also found minerals that made the environment "hospitable" — in other words, possible to live on. Said chief Curiosity scientist John Grotzinger:
We have found a habitable environment that is so benign and supportive of life that probably, if this water was around and you had been on the planet, you would have been able to drink it.
Curiosity got presidential support and its own video game.
Shortly after landing, President Obama got in touch with Curiosity's team to congratulate them. "If in fact you do make contact with Martians, please let me know right away,” he added. “I’ve got a lot of other things on my plate, but I suspect that that would go to the top of the list. Even if they’re just microbes, it will be pretty exciting.”
Xbox Live came out with a simulation of the "Seven Minutes of Terror," which uses players' body motions to deduce whether they'd land safely or explode in a ball of flames.
The Mars Rover already inspired a next generation of Mars rovers.
In December, NASA announced that they were building a new rover based on Curiosity, set to launch in 2020. This time, the next-edition rover will be looking for signs of past life (likely keeping Obama on speed dial) and further investigating whether we could come to call Mars home.
Finally, a birthday flashback: "Twelve Months In Two Minutes."