Curiosity Rover Mission to Mars Revisited

NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity snapped this picture of Mount Sharp with its front Hazard Avoidance camera, or Hazcam. The photo was released by NASA on Aug. 6, 2012.

This full-resolution version of one of the first images taken by a rear-left Hazard-Avoidance camera on NASA’s Curiosity rover, was released on Aug. 6, 2012.

This handout image from NASA, one of the first images from the Curiosity rover which landed on Mars the evening of August 5, 2012, with camera dust cover in place, shows the wheel of the rover after it successfully landed on Mars.The rover landed on the Martian surface shortly after 10:30 p.m. Pacific time on Sunday (1:30 a.m. EDT Monday/0530 GMT) to begin a two-year mission seeking evidence the Red Planet once hosted ingredients for life, NASA …

In this photo released by NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Arizona, NASA’s Curiosity rover and its parachute, left, descend to the Martian surface on Sunday, Aug. 5, 2012. The high-resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera captured this image of Curiosity while the orbiter was listening to transmissions from the rover. (AP Photo/NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Arizona)

In this image from NASA TV, shot off a video screen, one of the first images from a second batch of images sent from the Curiosity rover is pictured of its wheel after it successfully landed on Mars. The video screen was inside the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) team inside the Spaceflight Operations Facility for NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity rover at Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California August 5, 2012.

This color thumbnail image was obtained by NASA’s Curiosity rover during its descent to the surface of Mars on Aug. 5 PDT (Aug. 6 EDT). The image was obtained by the Mars Descent Imager instrument known as MARDI and shows the 15-foot (4.5-meter

This image from Curiosity’s Mars Descent Imager illustrates the roughly circular swirls of dust kicked up from the Martian surface by the rocket motor exhaust. At this point, Curiosity is about 70 feet (20 meters) above the surface.

This still from NASA TV shows a photo of the Mars rover Curiosity under its parachute as it landed on Mars on Aug. 5 PDT, 2012. The photo was taken by NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.

Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity members from left: John Grunsfeld, NASA associate administrator, Charles Elachi, director, JPL, Pete Theisinger, MSL project manager, Richard Cook, MSL deputy project manager, Adam Steltzner, MSL entry, descent and landing (EDL) lead and John Grotzinger, MSL project scientist, California Institute of Technology, from the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) Curiosity Rover mission team raise their arms celebrate the …

NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity has beamed back an incredible image of its surroundings, showing a spectacularly clear view of the enormous mountain that it will clamber up in the next few years.

The photo — with one of the rover’s wheels visible in the bottom left corner, the rover’s shadow stretched out in front, and the huge Mount Sharp looming in the background — was released by NASA today (Aug. 6) in a news briefing from the agency’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif.

The image was sent back to Earth less than 24 hours after Curiosity (also known as the Mars Science Laboratory, or MSL) touched down on the Red Planet late Sunday night (Aug. 5 PDT; Aug. 6 EDT and GMT).

The photo is a full-resolution image that was taken by one of the rover’s Hazard Avoidance cameras, or Hazcams, said Joy Crisp, MSL deputy scientist at JPL.

Mount Sharp is a giant Martian peak that rises 3 miles (5 kilometers) from the center of Gale Crater. The mountain’s many geological layers are particularly intriguing to mission scientists, as they could hold a record of how the Red Planet has changed over time.

In the newly released image, Mount Sharp is clearly visible in the background.

“It’s taller than any mountain in the lower 48 states, [so it’s] pretty spectacular,” Crisp said. “What catches your eye are the dark dunes piled up along the base of Mount Sharp.” [1st Photos of Mars by Curiosity Rover (Gallery)]

The photo reveals that there are no major obstacles directly in front of Curiosity that could block its path to the mountain, Crisp added.

From the photo, Crisp and her colleagues were able to determine that Mount Sharp is located roughly 4 miles (6.5 kilometers) away from Curiosity. Mission controllers aim to eventually drive up part of the mountain to explore the layers of Martian rocks and soil.

The new photo is also the sharpest view yet seen of Curiosity’s shadow against the Martian surface.

A separate Hazcam photo, taken by a camera on the rover’s rear-left side, was also released during today’s news briefing. The photo captures the view behind Curiosity, looking at the horizon and the northwest rim of Gale Crater, which is located approximately 17 miles (28 km) away, Crisp said.

“We can see the wheel of the rover,” she explained. “It’s very flat with these pebbles — no obstacles for driving. We’ll be able to drive front or rearwards.”

In the coming days, scientists will continue to receive and analyze photos from Curiosity, including a series of images taken as the rover descended to the surface of Mars.

These images, from the rover’s Mars Descent Imager (MARDI), provide insight into the rover’s thrilling seven-minute journey through the Martian atmosphere. Early MARDI images show the spacecraft’s heat shield falling away shortly before it touched down on the surface of the Red Planet.

Follow Denise Chow on Twitter @denisechow or SPACE.com @Spacedotcom. We’re also on Facebook and Google+.

Copyright 2012 SPACE.com, a TechMediaNetwork company. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

See photos from NASA’s headquarters on Flickr

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