Curiosity rover on Mars (August 5, 2015)

The Mars Science Laboratory mission and its rover, Curiosity, were launched from Earth on November 26, 2011. As of September 14, 2019, Curiosity has been on the planet Mars for 2526 sols (2595 total days; 7 years, 39 days) since landing on August 6, 2012. (See Current status.)

Prelaunch (2004–2011)

Cruise stage is tested in 2010.[1]

In April 2004, the United States National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) called for scientific experiments and instruments proposals for the Mars Science Laboratory and rover mission.[2] Launch was proposed for September 2009.[3][4] By December 14, 2004, eight proposals were selected, including instruments from Russia and Spain.[2][4]

Testing of components also began in late 2004, including Aerojet's monopropellant engine with the ability to throttle from 15–100 percent thrust with a fixed propellant inlet pressure.[2] By November 2008 most hardware and software development was complete, and testing continued.[5] At this point, cost overruns were approximately $400 million.[6] On December 2008, lift-off was delayed to November 2011 due to insufficient time for testing and integration.[7][8][9]

Between March 23–29, 2009, the general public ranked nine finalist rover names (Adventure, Amelia, Journey, Perception, Pursuit, Sunrise, Vision, Wonder, and Curiosity)[10] through a public poll on the NASA website.[11] On May 27, 2009, the winning name was announced to be Curiosity. The name had been submitted in an essay contest by Clara Ma, a then sixth-grader from Kansas.[11]

Landing site selection

At the first MSL Landing Site workshop, 33 potential landing sites were identified.[12] By the second workshop in late 2007, the list had grown to include almost 50 sites,[13] and by the end of the workshop, the list was reduced to six;[14][15][16] in November 2008, project leaders at a third workshop reduced the list to these four landing sites:[17][18][19][20]

Name Location Elevation Notes
Eberswalde Crater 23°52′S 326°44′E / 23.86°S 326.73°E / -23.86; 326.73 −1,450 m (−4,760 ft) Ancient river delta.[21]
Holden Crater 26°22′S 325°06′E / 26.37°S 325.10°E / -26.37; 325.10 −1,940 m (−6,360 ft) Dry lake bed.[22]
Gale Crater 4°29′S 137°25′E / 4.49°S 137.42°E / -4.49; 137.42 −4,451 m (−14,603 ft) Features 5 km (3.1 mi) tall mountain
of layered material near center.[22][23] selected.[24]
Mawrth Vallis 24°01′N 341°02′E / 24.01°N 341.03°E / 24.01; 341.03 −2,246 m (−7,369 ft) Channel carved by catastrophic floods.[25]

A fourth landing site workshop was held in late September 2010,[26] and the fifth and final workshop May 16–18, 2011.[27] On July 22, 2011, it was announced that Gale Crater had been selected as the landing site of the Mars Science Laboratory mission.

Aeolis Mons rises from the middle of Gale Crater - Green dot marks the Curiosity rover landing site in Aeolis Palus[24][28] - North is down.

Launch (2011)

MSL Launch - November 26, 2011 15:02:00.211 UTC[29]

MSL was launched from