NASA got a great deal of mileage out of the Mars rovers Spirit and Opportunity, which have lasted far longer than the 90 days originally expected of them when they landed in January 2004. Just this week, in fact, NASA said that Opportunity has surpassed the longevity record of 6 years, 116 days for operation on Mars, surpassing the Viking 1 lander. Spirit, meanwhile, may be done for
. Bogged down in loose Martian soil, it may not have been able to position itself to get a good recharge from its solar panels.
Back on Earth, NASA is working on the next generation of Mars rover, named Curiosity, a bigger model that the space agency this week said it hopes to launch between November 25 and December 18, 2011, with a landing on Mars to occur between August 6 and August 20, 2012.
As this artist's depiction suggests, the new rover will be packing heat.
"Curiosity will have a laser on its mast that can take aim at a rock and vaporize a small spot on it," Joy Crisp of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory said in a NASA Science post in October. "This produces a plasma cloud that tells us about that rock's chemistry. We'll look at the light reflected off the cloud to characterize rocks and soils from up to 9 meters away. We'll be able to classify minerals, ices, and organic molecules without having to drive as much."