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Curiosity and the Mars Science Laboratory Mission

NASA's Curiosity rover is home to the Mars Science Laboratory – an assembly of instruments probing the red planet for evidence of past conditions that could once have supported life.

Launched from Cape Canaveral on , Curiosity carries a Canadian-made geology instrument that analyzes the chemical composition of the rocks and soil on Mars.

The mobile lab features 10 different instruments. Each has specialized capabilities to investigate the current environment of the planet. Analyzing data gathered by all of the instruments will help scientists find out if Mars was once a more hospitable place.

Canada has extended its participation in the Mars Science Laboratory mission to .

As of , Curiosity has travelled a distance of 27.8 km on the Martian surface, and its Canadian instrument Alpha Particle X-ray Spectrometer (APXS) has analyzed 1211 samples and sent 2659 results back to Earth.

This self-portrait of NASA's Curiosity Mars rover shows the vehicle on lower Mount Sharp. (Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

Canada's role in the mission

Curiosity is delving into Mars's environmental history in much greater detail than previous missions. This laboratory on wheels is a motorized field geologist and geochemist, analyzing samples of the Martian surface using its APXS provided by the Canadian Space Agency (CSA). Specially designed for use on Mars, APXS is analyzing samples to help determine whether our closest planetary neighbour could be suitable for human habitation.

Canadian science is also being conducted using data collected by Curiosity to learn more about the red planet. Funding from the CSA over three years is helping support Canadian institutions York University and the University of Calgary, as scientists there take a deep dive into the mysteries of Earth's planetary neighbour.

Chris Herd

Dr. John Moores, York Research Chair in Space Exploration at the Department of Earth and Space Science and Engineering at York University. (Credit: York University)

Mariek Schmidt

Dr. Benjamin Tutolo, Associate Professor in the Department of Geoscience at the University of Calgary. (Credit: University of Calgary)

Dr. John Moores is taking a closer look at the factors that affect the weather at the Gale Crater on Mars. He and his team will use Curiosity measurements to better understand how changes in levels of dust, ice, and atmospheric thickness contribute to shifting levels of methane on Mars.

At the University of Calgary, Dr. Benjamin Tutolo is using data gathered by Curiosity to study Mars's geological record, through a careful look at the layers of rock around the rover near Mount Sharp. Dr. Tutolo's research will dive back into Mars's history to identify periods of time where the surface may have been water-rich – and therefore, could once have held life.

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