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DW News

NASA engineers celebrate on-planet birthday of Mars rover Curiosity

A year ago, NASA's Curiosity rover survived a difficult entry into the Martian atmosphere and a tentative lowering to the planet's surface. Since then, it's been slowly exploring its own little corner of the Red Planet.

Watch video 01:18

About the size of a small 4x4 vehicle, the rover already accomplished the main part of its mission back in March - establishing that Mars could have served as fertile ground for microbial life in the dim and distant past.

Since its arrival, Curiosity has provided researchers back on Earth with more than 190 gigabits of data, taking photographs and firing laser shots at the ground to investigate surface composition. The data revealed that the water that once flowed there was not too acidic or salty to prevent life.

The six-wheeled Mars rover won’t be winning any prizes for speed, though. In its time on the planet so far, Curiosity has travelled just over a mile (1.6 kilometers).

Engineers back on Earth didn’t forget the anniversary of the vehicle, alone on the planet for a full 12 months now. They programmed a tiny instrument that it carries to make frequency measurements to play a version of the Happy Birthday song.

The nuclear-powered rover is not finished yet. Over the next few months it will be heading for a nearby mountain - where further measurements await.

rc/jm (AP, AFP, Reuters)