Curiosity to search for signs of life
Mon, 06 Aug 2012 11:03p.m.
By Janika ter Ellen
The Mars rover Curiosity has successfully landed on the red planet.
It's the biggest, most advanced and expensive robot ever sent to Mars and its successful touch down means we're a step closer to answering that age old question - are we alone in the universe?
It was a moment of elation when NASA realised their 2.5 billion pride and joy was safe and sound on Mars.
Curiosity can now begin its mission to search for the chemical building blocks of life.
“The most sophisticated rover ever built is now on the surface of the Red Planet where it will seek to answer age-old questions about whether life ever existed there on Mars, or if the planet can sustain life,” NASA says.
The emotion wasn't lost on a crowd of space enthusiasts watching a live feed of the unfolding action at Wellington's Carter Observatory.
“I was very tense and I was quite amazed to see nothing went wrong,” spectator Ilena Shadbolt says.
Others were already thinking ahead to the practical implications of the landing.
“In the future we might be able to discover life or go and live on Mars when all our resources burn out,” says student Alex Murray.
And he's not far wrong.
Recent missions to Mars were about whether water once existed there. Scientists concluded it did.
Now Curiosity is on the search for life, says Carter Observatory astrophysicist Clare Bretherton.
“The aim of this mission is to go that one step further and to look for some of the building blocks, hydrocarbons, the things you and I are made up of, and the conditions we think would be necessary to exist on Mars.”
The rover is designed to do the work of a geologist, extracting rocks and analysing them in an on-board lab.
If the results are good, the US plans to send humans to Mars by the 2030s.
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