Mars Curiosity Rover Gets ‘Brain Transplant,’ Prepares for Mountain Trek

BY Jenny Marder  August 15, 2012 at 4:19 PM EDT

NASA’s intrepid Mars rover, Curiosity has been through a lot in the past year. It flew 354 million miles, blasted through the Mars atmosphere, deployed a supersonic parachute, unfurled a giant sky crane and touched down gently on the surface of Mars.

And its most recent accolade: a “pre-planned brain transplant,” according to NASA scientists on the Mars Science Laboratory team. In the days since the landing, Curiosity has been kept at a standstill while it undergoes a series of checks to its many on-board instruments. But it’s kept itself busy snapping photos of the hazy, dust-covered planet, which you can see in the slide show above.

“In just a week, we’ve done a lot,” said MSL deputy project scientist Ashwin Vasavada in a NASA teleconference on Tuesday. “We’ve returned our first stunning panorama of the Gale Crater, the first to be acquired using focusable cameras on any planet. We’ve returned the first-ever measurements of high-energy radiation from the surface, which are intended to help plan for future missions. We’ve returned the first-ever movie of a spacecraft landing on another planet and captured the first images from the ground of an ancient Martian river channel.”

Amidst the frenzied prep work, the team also took a call from President Obama, who congratulated them on a successful landing, talked future Mars missions and joked about getting his own mohawk, in reference to Mars mission flight director Bobak Ferdowsi, known to fans as “Mohawk guy.”

Soon Curiosity will start its yearlong, four-mile trek across sand dunes, mesas and buttes to the Gale Crater’s Mount Sharp. Once there, it will clamber up the Martian mountain, taking samples along the way. Scientists believe the mountain’s many geologic layers could provide a sort of history book of how the planet evolved over time.

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