Curiosity team dishes on SarcasticRover, looks ahead

Women scientists and engineers from the Mars Curiosity rover mission tackle questions on Reddit ranging from the serious to the silly.

Amanda Kooser
Freelance writer Amanda C. Kooser covers gadgets and tech news with a twist for CNET. When not wallowing in weird gear and iPad apps for cats, she can be found tinkering with her 1956 DeSoto.
Amanda Kooser
2 min read
Curiosity self-portrait
This stitched-together photo is a self-portrait of Curiosity. NASA

The Mars Curiosity rover is the space mission that just keeps on giving. Most people won't get an opportunity to step into mission control and quiz the scientists, but a Reddit Q&A has given us all a glimpse behind the scenes. Ten scientists and engineers fielded queries, covering everything from how long the mission could last to which songs are played at late-night NASA dance parties.

When asked about the rover's most important discovery, deputy project scientist Joy Crisp chose one of the big ones.

"The results from our first rock drilling told us that the past environment, when that mudstone rock formed, was suitable for life," says Crisp, pointing out that microbial life could have possibly existed on the planet, but that Curiosity isn't equipped to detect it.

The rover's official mission is scheduled to cover one Mars year (two Earth years), but the team expects the rover's work to continue beyond that if it stays healthy. It could even last a decade. Just don't expect it to cover too much ground.

"Curiosity will most likely never leave Gale crater - it is a big place (96 miles across) but there is so much to look at, many layers of rock that represent billions of years of geologic history. So Curiosity will study one area in depth," says Mars public engagement specialist Sarah Marcotte.

It wasn't all serious scientific questions that got answered. One question came in about the rover's "personality" on Twitter, some of which developed from lessons learned from tweeting the Mars Phoenix project in 2008. "People were more responsive to the first [person] and it was easier to fit tweets into 140 characters. Curiosity is a mashup of personalities from three of us working together to do the posts each day. We want to make it fun but educational and interactive," says social media team member Veronica McGregor.

Speaking of Twitter, the subject of the team's reaction to the SarcasticRover Twitter account came up. "Anything that gains public interest for Space Exploration programs is good in my book! I just hope people take it for what it is and go to some of the NASA websites to fact check and learn a bit more about the details," says mechanisms downlink engineer Megan Richardson.

There are plenty of interesting tidbits to be mined from the Q&A, but one of the most entertaining is the confirmation that sometimes even NASA engineers need to take a break and get down with their bad selves. Richardson fesses up to participating in the occasional dance party during the night shift on the drill testing team. "Every day I'm shufflin' was one of our favorites. Also the Call me maybe mash-up of the rover is worth checking out," she writes. So there you go. Dial up the video and get down like a NASA scientist.