The Mars Curiosity Rover sent back a new selfie from the Red Planet on January 23, making the most technologically advanced rover ever sent to another world look like Wall-E from Walt Disney. This marks the first time the rugged spacecraft has tweeted from Mars since being silenced for a day by the U.S. government shutdown on January 22.
The Mars Science Laboratory placed the Curiosity rover on the Martian surface in August 2012, and the rover has been on Twitter ever since.
“I’m back! Did you miss me? This selfie is part of a fresh batch of images, direct from #Mars,” the rover tweeted on the microblogging network.
Well over five years ago, as Curiosity hurdled through the Martian atmosphere, a massive parachute slowed the decent of the lander. Next, a decent vehicle controlled by powerful jet engines reduced the velocity of the vehicle further as the lander dangled beneath the vehicle from a sky crane, much like a bungee cord. This was necessary as Curiosity is much larger than any previous mission, carrying 10 times as much mass as any other rover on the planet.
“Curiosity’s mission is to determine whether the Red Planet ever was, or is, habitable to microbial life. The rover, which is about the size of a MINI Cooper, is equipped with 17 cameras and a robotic arm containing a suite of specialized laboratory-like tools and instruments,” Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) wrote on the mission web page.
The Curiosity rover was headed to Mount Sharp, before being diverted by an unexpected find. Mission engineers rerouted the spacecraft after spotting bluish rock scattered around the Vera Rubin Ridge. This brought the rover west of its planned route, which will be resumed once Curiosity has a chance to complete its investigation of the unusual geology in the region.
In November 2018, NASA plans to land the InSight lander on Mars, to study the climate of that alien world.
Although the mission is in its sixth year as measured on Earth, the rover has only seen three years on Mars, as the Red Planet takes 687 Earth days to go around the Sun. The mission was scheduled to last just 23 months, a goal which Curiosity easily surpassed.
Photo: The Mars Curiosity Rover takes a selfie on January 23rd, 2018. Twitter / JPL/NASA