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Curiosity's mission extended indefinitely

Thursday 6 Dec 2012 9:01 a.m.

Curiosity zaps a rock

Curiosity zaps a rock

If humanity makes it to Mars in the next half-century, there's a good chance NASA's Curiosity rover might be able to greet them.

Since landing on the red planet in August, Curiosity has performed so well NASA has extended its two-year mission indefinitely, saying it could last as long as 55 years.

"We've already decided with this plan that we will continue to operate Curiosity as long as it's scientifically viable," says John Grunsfled, NASA's associate administrator for science.

"And that could be a long time."

The nuclear-powered rover has enough plutonium on board to last 55 years, says Grunsfeld.

NASA's previous Mars landers – at least the ones that actually landed – have a good track record.  In 2004, Spirit and Opportunity arrived on a three-month mission. Spirit stopped communicating with Earth six years later, whilst Opportunity is still going strong.

The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter went into orbit in 2006 on a two-year mission, and despite experiencing technical difficulties in 2009, is still working.

NASA plans to land another rover, similar to Curiosity, on Mars in 2020. The White House wants astronauts in orbit around Mars by 2030, with a landing to follow.

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