After traveling through the inner solar system for seven years, NASA’s MESSENGER spacecraft reached Mercury in March 2011 and became the first ever mission to orbit this mysterious planet. Since then, MESSENGER has been making measurements with its suite of scientific instruments, including gamma-ray, neutron and x-ray spectrometers, magnetometer, laser altimeter, cameras and other instruments.
What were you doing when Curiousity touched down on the surface of Mars?
For those of us in California, the exciting moments of the rover’s descent and landing took place just before bedtime (10:30pm) so we watched it live on the NASA website. Don’t know about you, but we found it hard to hold back the tears as we watched the scientists and engineers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory erupt into celebration after the picture perfect landing.
Science is a beautiful thing and we can’t wait to see what Curiosity sends back to Earth in the coming months and years.
In the meantime, let’s look back at Curiosity’s rover predecessors, Spirit and Opportunity, with Steven Squyres, the principle scientist behind the Mars Exploration Rover Project, who visited UC Berkeley in 2011. He shares his experiences working on the mind-boggling project and talks about the future of planetory exploration in these three programs: