Curiosity sets off for Mars

I worked at the Open University at the time Colin Pillinger and his colleagues were developing the Beagle mission to Mars. As we all know, Beagle disappeared without trace and became another in a long list of failed Mars missions. Today, NASA launched an Atlas 5 rocket. It was carrying the Curiosity rover. I hope Curiosity fares better than Beagle when it reaches Mars in about 9 months time.

Artist's impression of NASA's Curiosity rover

An artist's impression of NASA's Curiosity rover exploring the Martian surface
Credit: NASA

Curiosity is a huge vehicle: Beagle was about as big as one of Curiosity’s wheels! This new, super-sized rover has the capacity to do some truly interesting science. And one of the aims, of course, is to learn more about whether life ever existed on the red planet. This is a crucial question for exobiology. As I will discuss in later posts, if life on Mars got started independently of life on Earth, then we have much better grounds for supposing that life is common in the Universe.