NASA to Send Curiosity Rover to Find Water on Mars?
Scientists strongly believe that there are pieces of evidence of water on Mars. To further prove that, NASA is thinking of deploying the Mars Curiosity Rover to look for water sites on the red planet. But is not as easy to it sounds, for the rover needs to be extra careful. For the project to take effect NASA had to acquire planetary protection approval.
The Curiosity rover is currently ascending the slopes of Mount Sharp, one of the most awaited parts of its mission to Mars. Along the way, the rover drilled and collected earth or dust samples and today, NASA wants the rover to also look for water sites on the planet.
NASA has long believed that the long, dark streaks called found on the surface of Mars are signs that water flows on its surface and the agency wanted to take photos of the slopes as near as possible, but it is proved to be physically and legally difficult.
"It's not as simple as driving a rover to a potential site and taking a scoop of soil," Jim Green, NASA's director of planetary science said in a press release. "Not only are these on steep slopes, we need to ensure that planetary protection concerns are met. In other words, how can we search for evidence of life without contaminating the sites with bugs from Earth?" Green added.
NASA scientists explains that the approval was sought to ensure that the Martian surface won't be contaminated by the rover. The areas should be protected from contamination especially if the dark streaks indeed mark the presence of water, a prerequite for life, according to a report by RT.
While waiting for approval, the rover will continue its climb towards the crater of Mount Sharp. The goal is to investigate how long the water-rich environment thrived before it dried out to its condition today. When the rover reached its destination on the mountain, it will also be closer to the dark streaks on the slopes giving it a full view of the "potential water sites" from its position.
Curiosity had been roving the planet since 2012, providing substantial data to help understand the red planet, a few years before an unmanned mission is set to launch to Mars sometime in 2018. The mission to take images of water sites can collect accurate and significant data that can potentially explain how water survived, thrived and eventually died on the red planet.
Using imaging spectrometer on Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, NASA scientists were able to confirm that the changing appearance of the dark slopes could mean there is moving water on Mars.
"Our quest on Mars has been to 'follow the water,' in our search for life in the universe, and now we have convincing science that validates what we've long suspected," John Grunsfeld, astronaut and associate administrator of NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington said in an interview. "This is a significant development, as it appears to confirm that water -- albeit briny -- is flowing today on the surface of Mars," Grundfeld added.
Although scientists said that once approved, the mission will not confirm or negate the existence of life on Mars, the data to be gathered will greatly help in the future missions to the planet.