Landing at Gale Crater, Mars Science Laboratory is assessing whether Mars ever had an environment capable of supporting microbial life.
Determining past habitability on Mars gives NASA and the scientific community a better understanding of whether life could have existed on the red planet and, if it could have existed, an idea of where to look for it in the future.
The Mars Science Laboratory mission and its Curiosity rover mark a transition between the themes of "Follow the Water" and "Seek Signs of Life." In addition to landing in a place with past evidence of water, Curiosity is seeking evidence of organics, the chemical building blocks of life. Places with water and the chemistry needed for life potentially provide habitable conditions. This mission is part of a series of expeditions to the red planet that help meet the four main science goals of the Mars Exploration Program:
A camera that takes color images and color video footage of the Martian terrain. The instrument is also used to study the Martian landscape and support the driving and sampling operations of the rover.
A camera that provides earthbound scientists with close-up views of the minerals, textures, and structures in Martian rocks and the surface layer of rocky debris and dust.
A camera that took color video during the rover's descent toward the surface, providing an "astronaut's view" of the local environment.
A spectrometer that measures the abundance of chemical elements in rocks and soils.
An instrument that first uses a laser to vaporize materials then later analyzes their elemental composition using an on-board spectrograph.
An instrument that identifies and measures the abundances of various minerals on Mars.
A suite of instruments that searches for compounds of the element carbon that are associated with life and explores ways in which they are generated and destroyed in the Martian ecosphere.
An instrument that measures and identifies all high-energy radiation on the Martian surface, such as protons, energetic ions of various elements, neutrons, and gamma rays.
A pulsing neutron generator that is used to detect detect water content as low as one-tenth of 1 percent and resolve layers of water and ice beneath the surface.
An instrument that measures and provides daily and seasonal reports on Martian weather.
An instrument that collected engineering data during the spacecraft's high-speed, extremely hot entry into the Martian atmosphere.