A review panel for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) criticized the Curiosity mission regarding its lack in scientific focus.
The Mars Curiosity Rover was launched from Cape Canaveral, Florida on November 26th, 2011. It landed on the Aeolis Palus Gale Crater on Mars almost nine months later on August 6th, 2012 according to NASA.
The job of Curiosity Rover have been to investigate the Martian Gale Crater’s climate and geology.
The ten-year old Opportunity rover and other missions are ranked ahead than the Mars rover as per the review by a high level panel called the Senior Review, headed by Clive Neal of the Notre Dame University, Indiana.
The seven missions having its expiry on 30 September were ranked from ‘Excellent’ to ‘Good’ to determine the amount of funding that will be further invested to them in the coming two years.
The seven missions and the rankings given by the Senior Review are:
1.Cassini (exploring Saturn and its moons) – Excellent;
2.Mars Opportunity rover (exploring Mars on the surface) – Excellent/Very Good
3.and Mars Reconnaisance Orbiter (exploring Mars) -Excellent/Very Good;
4.Lunar Reconnaisance Orbiter (exploring moon)- Very Good/Good
5.Mars Odyssey- Very Good/Good
6.Mars Curiosity -Very Good/Good;
7.Mars Express (an ESA spacecraft with some Nasa equipment) – Good/Fair.
All the 7 missions were approved but the Panel felt that the proposal for extending the Curiosity mission “lacked scientific focus and detail” and it “lacked specific scientific questions to be answered, testable hypotheses, and proposed measurements and assessment of uncertainties and limitations”. The team is taking actions that show they think the $2.5-billion mission is “too big to fail.”
“It was unclear from both the proposal and presentation that the Prime Mission science goals had been met. In fact, it was unclear what exactly these were.” The Panel noted, according to a summary released on 3 September at the Planetary society meeting.
The panel recommended making several amendments to the mission. One of them would be reducing the distance that Curiosity drives in favor of doing more detailed investigations when it stops.
The panel also criticize the physical absence of the project scientist John Grotzinger in the review. Grotzinger opted for being available on phone.
Other concerns included the small number of samples over the prime and extended missions (13, a “poor science return”), and a lack of clarity on how the ChemCam and Mastcam instruments will play into the extended mission.
On Sept. 3, Curiosity was updated to be heading to Pahrump Hills as it continues to advance towards Mount Sharp to conduct geology work and search for clouds. In a recent series of images sent back from Mars, the six-wheeled rover tracked a formation of clouds drift overhead, blown by high altitude winds.
Robert Haberle, who is part of the Rover Environmental Monitoring Station (REMS) team enlightened on the importance of studying the martian clouds. He said that clouds are a part of the climate system of a planet and their behavior could provide insights about winds and temperatures.
“Some studies suggest that clouds in the past may have significantly warmed the planet through a greenhouse effect,” Haberle said. “A warmer environment is more conducive to life.”
Martian clouds’ images illustrates the fact that they are found only in the equatorial region.
In a tweet on September 2, 2014, Curiosity shared its view of the path ahead and proclaimed:
"Head for the hills! I'm driving towards these hills on Mars to do geology work & also search for clouds."
The examination of weather and clouds on Mars today can throw light on processes that have shaped the planet’s climate through time and will not only let us know about the current climate but also about the past conditions.
Haberle points out that, “winds are the primary mechanism for shaping the planet’s surface for the past 3-4 billion years.