Curiosity starts roving around Mars

Newest addition to the plucky Mars rover fleet surprises scientists with early evidence of organic compounds in Martian soil.

One image sent back to NASA from the Curiosity rover. NASA/JPL-Caltech/Malin Space Science Systems

It's been a tough couple of years for NASA, which has seen huge budget cuts and the retirement of the U.S. space shuttle program. But it's not all bad news at the agency.

Curiosity, the newest robot in NASA's little fleet of Martian rovers, landed on the Red Planet in August and quickly got to work. Within a few months, the rover had already made a significant finding: NASA announced in early December that Curiosity had found signs of simple organic compounds in a Martian soil sample, though scientists were quick to check expectations since they were still working to confirm that no earthly contaminants were present in the sample.

If Curiosity follows in the surprisingly long-running tracks of its predecessors Spirit and Opportunity, the rover will be conducting research for years to come. And NASA is already making plans for the next phase of Mars research; it recently announced it will be able to launch a new rover in 2020.

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