After touching down as planned inside the Gale crater on Aug 6, Curiosity has been busy zapping nearby rocks to ascertain their chemical composition.
Though the rover will explore the surface of Mars in the coming months, a detailed study of the subterranean geology is not expected. The latter will be the main objective of another project, InSight, that was announced by NASA yesterday.
The Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in California will run the mission. "By using sophisticated geophysical instruments, InSight will delve deep beneath the surface of Mars, detecting the fingerprints of the processes of terrestrial planet formation, as well as measuring the planet's 'vital signs': Its 'pulse' (seismology), 'temperature' (heat flow probe), and 'reflexes' (precision tracking)," JPL said.
With the help of a seismic monitor developed by the French space agency and a heat-flow probe developed by the German aerospace center, InSight will try to find out whether Mars experiences tremors.
"Seismology is the standard method by which we've learned to understand the interior of the Earth. And we have no such knowledge for Mars," rued John Grunsfeld, associate administrator for the Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters.
Scientists have always been curious about the Red Planet's core. Unlike Earth, Mars does not have a magnetic field. Hence, no one knows if its core is molten or solid. InSight, to be launched in Mar 2016, will hopefully provide answers to these questions.
According to NASA, the robotic lander should reach Mars within six months of the launch but it will take more than 22 months to collect all the data. Compared to the 2.5 billion dollars spent on Curiosity, InSight will be much cheaper. The project is estimated to cost 425 million dollars.