At 126 million kilometers from Earth, only with the cold, red unlimited of Mars, soon after the dawn, a small size 4×4 robot begins. Just like every day for six years, wait for your instructions.
Approximately 9:30 am, the time of Mars, a message arrives that leaves California for the fourth hour before: "Progressing 10 meters, rotating at 45 degrees, and autonomously proceeding to this point 2.
Curiosity, as it is called, slowly moves between 35 and 110 meters per hour, no more. Batteries and other restrictions explain their daily journey of about 100 meters and reach a record of 220 meters.
At that time, the cameras of 17 robots photographed the surroundings. His laser is stirring up rocks. It stops with a special attractive stone to take a few grams.
About 5:00 local time, the robot will wait for the passage of one of three NASA satellites that orbit around Mars to deliver its report: a few hundred megabytes, and then it is transferred to the main terrestrial antennas of their human bosses.
In the ground floor of NASA's 34 Goddard Space Center in Greenbelt, scientists analyze this data every day. In this large room without windows, full instruments and computers, find the signs of life on Mars.
The interior of curiosity is a "miracle of miniaturization": a chemical microwave oven laboratory called SAM.
Charles Malespin, Deputy Head of the Scientific Team Curiosity, points out the instruments in the work plans: the robot was reduced and compacted. "This is the most demanding instrument NASA has always sent to another planet," says Malespin, who has dedicated his career to him since 2006.
SAM analyzes the samples by heating in the oven up to 1000 ° C. While cooking, stones and soil release gases. Then, these gases are separated and sent to the instruments analyzed and prepare the "fingerprint" of the sample.
Thanks to SAM, it is known that there are complex organic molecules on Mars, and that the antiquity of the planet's surface was determined, geologically much younger than scientists. "If we want to go to Mars, it is of no importance to import already existing resources," adds Malespin, for example, on water. "We could dig the soil, warm it up and let go of water, just take the oven, we will have as much water as we want," he says. The same applies to various materials that could become fuel for the future "rocket station".
On the other side of the United States, in the Pasadena Diving Laboratory, near Los Angeles, there are about 15 men and women who are curious about curiosity.
"My favorite moment in the day is when I sit down to see the pictures sent from Mars," says Frank Hartman, who points to Curiosity and another Opportunity robot that broke down in June.
The work of drivers is to plan a March day – which lasts 24 hours and 40 minutes – a robot and program the commands that they must meet.