Curiosity's Tracks Seen From Space

Rover takes first sniff of Martian air

By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff

Posted Sep 7, 2012 2:50 AM CDT

(Newser) – After a month on Mars, the Curiosity rover is still going through checks, and racking up near-perfect scores. It has driven more than 350 feet from its landing site, leaving tracks that have been photographed from space by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, reports CBS. Curiosity "continues to surprise us with how well she's doing everything we ask of her," says Mission Manager Mike Watkins. "We've continued to drive a little bit. We are about a football field or so away from the touchdown point."

Most of the rover's systems are already operational and "we're getting a lot of science out of that," Watkins says. Its robot arm still needs to undergo checks, but the team hopes to start scooping up Martian soil within a few weeks. The rover has already taken a sniff of Martian air for the first tests of the Martian atmosphere's chemistry since the Viking landings in the 1970s, reports the BBC. It will measure for methane gas, which has already been detected by satellites. The presence of the short-lived gas on Mars would signal that some kind of replenishing source exists—geochemical, or possibly even biological.

Curiosity's tracks as seen from its rear-facing camera.   (AP Photo/NASA/JPL-Caltech)
This image from NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter shows Curiosity and the tracks it has left since landing a month ago.   (AP Photo/NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Arizona)
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