The main goal of NASA’s Curiosity rover mission is to delve into the secrets of the Red Planet — and one of the big ones is trying to prove definitively that there really is water on Mars. Well, the odds are looking up, but Curiosity could need a reroute to avoid contaminating the site.
More than 450 instances of apparent recurring slope lineae (RSL) have been spotted on the planet in recent years, and officials believe those dark colored slopes could possibly be water. Sadly, there are some international rules preventing Curiosity from actually touching liquid water on Mars, so NASA is considering a reroute to ensure the rover doesn’t mess up the site for future study.
IGN reports the concern revolves around potential “Earth microbes” that could affect the site, after piggybacking on the rover. The current route will only take the rover within about two kilometers of the site, but if the weather conditions are just right, there’s a chance it could be a problem. So, NASA is monitoring the situation to ensure the rover isn’t going to be messing around with the potential study site.
Which, even if NASA wanted to roll up and check out the site, Curiosity isn’t physically capable of doing it — since it can’t get up the 25+ degree slope. Sigh.
So, when can we actually check out these sites? The earliest would be after 2020, when the Mars 2020 rover gets there. If it’s sterile enough, there’s a chance it could provide some closer study on these sites. If that doesn’t pan out, we’ll be waiting until NASA finally puts boots on the ground in the 2030s-2040s.
Or hey, maybe SpaceX’s plan will stay on schedule and their crew can take a look in the late 2020s. Fingers crossed.