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The Rover Family

Postcards from Mars: Wishing You Were Here

21 November 2011
Image showing space snapshots that says Great Shots Blog, iconic images from our solar system.

Sojourner started it all. Soon thereafter a set of twins -- Spirit and Opportunity -- "followed in her rover tracks," however making new imprints in new places on the Red Planet. The newest rover on the block -- Curiosity -- will be launching to Mars this Saturday, 26 November 2011.

It has been a long journey -- eight years since the proposal stage for Mars Science Laboratory's Curiosity rover -- and yet the mission is really only beginning. Once the rover arrives on the Martian soil in August 2012 we will see it travel farther and stronger than any other Mars rover. Curiosity will also carry the most advanced payload of scientific gear ever used on the Martian surface. Some of Curiosity's equipment allows the rover to gather samples of rocks and soil, process them and then distribute them to onboard test chambers inside analytical instruments. No wonder this rover is named "Curiosity." And we know that there is a lot for Curiosity to be curious about on Mars from the rovers that preceded her.

We can't wait to see what Curiosity will discover in her space of the Red Planet (Gale Crater) and how her new technologies will perform there. While we wait and wonder what Curiosity will add to the Rover family album, take a look below to see snapshots taken and sent home by Curiosity's sisters. (11 images total)

The Rover Family
Family Photo: Mars rovers appear to be shrinking with age! The biggest, baddest, newest rover is the Mars Science Laboratory rover (right). It's the size of a small sport-utility vehicle. Next up in size are the Mars Exploration Rovers (MER) Spirit and Opportunity (left, only one pictured here). Each is the size of a dune buggy. And in left center is the first-generation rover, Sojourner, which is the size of a microwave oven.

Why are the rovers getting bigger? The answer is one word: science. The mass and volume of science instruments -- tools the rovers use to study the Martian surface and environment -- have remained fairly constant at about 10 percent. To determine if Mars ever could have supported life, the Mars Science Laboratory rover will travel farther, carry more instruments, and sample more rocks and soils than ever before. Like a car with more gizmos, the newest robotic beast has to evolve to carry all that gear!

Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

The Little Rover That Could: Come December it will have been 15 years since Mars Pathfinder launched for Mars from Cape Canaveral.

In this enhanced version of the famous Mars Pathfinder photo of the lander and Sojourner rover we see the tracks and circular patterns in the soil leading up to Yogi that were part of Sojourner's soil mechanics experiments: varying amounts of pressure were applied to the wheels in order to determine physical properties of the soil.

Image Credit: NASA

Spirit Sunset
Spirit Sunset: The rover that took this image of a sunset on Mars has stopped communicating with us after becoming stuck in the sands of Gusev crater. Even though "the sun has set" for Spirit, she will not be forgotten.

Image Credit: NASA/JPL/Texas A&M/Cornell

"Lyell" Panorama inside Victoria Crater
"Lyell" Panorama inside Victoria Crater: During the four months prior to the fourth anniversary of its landing on Mars, NASA's Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity examined rocks inside an alcove called "Duck Bay" in the western portion of Victoria Crater.

This view combines many images taken by Opportunity's panoramic camera (Pancam). Images taken through Pancam filters centered on wavelengths of 753 nm, 535 nm and 432 nm were mixed to produce this view, which is presented in a false-color stretch to bring out subtle color differences in the scene. Some visible patterns in dark and light tones are the result of combining frames that were affected by dust on the front sapphire window of the rover's camera.

Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Cornell University

Salty Deposits
Salty: This false-color composite shows some of the most colorful deposits photographed on the surface of Mars.

Spirit analyzed the bright, yellowish exposures in the lower left part of the frame using instruments on the rover's robotic arm. Scientists hypothesized and then confirmed that these materials have a salty chemistry dominated by iron-bearing sulfates.

Image credit: NASA/JPL/Cornell

Horizon View on Mars
Looking Forward: NASA's Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity used its panoramic camera to record this eastward horizon view on the 2,407th Martian day, or sol, of the rover's work on Mars. The view is presented in false color to make differences in surface materials more visible.

A portion of Endeavour Crater's eastern rim, nearly 30 km (19 miles) in the distance, is visible over the Meridiani plain. The rover team chose Endeavour Crater as a long-term destination for Opportunity in mid-2008 after the rover had investigated the much-smaller Victoria Crater for two years. (Opportunity arrived at Endeavour in August 2011.)

Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Cornell University

A "Pot of Gold" Rich with Nuggets
A "Pot of Gold" Rich with Nuggets: This close-up image taken by the Mars Exploration Rover Spirit highlights the nodular nuggets that cover the rock dubbed "Pot of Gold." These nuggets appear to stand on the end of stalk-like features. The surface of the rock is dotted with fine-scale pits. Data from the rover's scientific instruments have shown that Pot of Gold contains the mineral hematite, which can be formed with or without water.

Image credit: NASA/JPL/Cornell/USGS

Santa Maria Crater
Anniversary at "Santa Maria" Crater (False Color): NASA's Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity spent the seventh anniversary of its landing on Mars investigating a crater called "Santa Maria," which has a diameter about the length of a football field.

Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Cornell/ASU

"Mazatzal" Before the Grind
"Mazatzal" Before the Grind: This approximate true-color image taken by the panoramic camera on the Mars Exploration Rover Spirit shows the rock dubbed "Mazatzal" before the rover drilled into it with its rock abrasion tool.

Image credit: NASA/JPL/Cornell

Reflective Shot
Reflective Shot: NASA's Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity used its navigation camera for this northward view of tracks the rover left on a drive from one energy-favorable position on the northern end of a sand ripple to another. The rover team calls this strategy hopping from lily pad to lily pad.

For scale, the distance between the parallel wheel tracks is about 1 m (3 feet).

Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Rosks by MAHLI
Preview of Coming Attractions: This view of terrestrial rocks was taken by a testing twin -- the "life test unit" -- of the Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) camera on NASA's Mars Science Laboratory.

The rounded gray cobble at upper right is about 11 cm (4.3 inches) in its longest dimension. As a demonstration of how MAHLI's adjustable focus may be used on Mars, this image can be compared with PIA13584, a closer-up view of this same cobble revealing smaller details on its surface. The inscribed rectangle indicates the portion of the rock covered in the close-up view.

Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Malin Space Science Systems

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Last Updated: 23 Nov 2011