Only in the cold and red vastness of Mars, 126 million kilometers away from Earth, a small 4×4-sized robot starts right after dawn. Just like every day for six years, wait for your instructions.
At 9:30 am on Mars, California sends a message about 1 hour and 30 minutes ago. "10 meters forward, 45 degrees and continues independently until that point".
Curiosity slowly moves between 35 and 110 meters per hour. The battery and other restrictions describe a daily trip of about 100 meters and reach a record of 220 meters.
Once there, the robot's 17 cameras take the picture. His laser makes the rock fun. Especially attracting a few grams of sample facing attractive stone.
At around 17:00 local time, the robot waits until one of the three NASA satellites orbits around Mars, passes a report of hundreds of megabits, and then sends it to the main ground antenna of the human boss.
Scientists analyze this data every day on the 34th floor of NASA's Goddard Space Center building in Greenbelt (an hour away from Washington). Find a trace of life on Mars from a nice room without windows and full of instruments and computers.
The inside of curiosity is the "wonder of miniaturization", a microwave-sized chemical laboratory called SAM.
Charles Malespin, deputy director of the curiosity science team, points out the tools of the work plan. Scaled and compressed within the robot.
"This is the most complex tool NASA has sent to other planets." Malespin says he has been dedicated to his career since 2006.
SAM is analyzed by heating the sample in an oven up to 1000 ° C. During cooking, rocks and soil release gas. The gases are then separated and sent to the analyzer to draw a "fingerprint" of the sample.
In Goddard, Maeva Millan, a French researcher, compares this chemical footprint with the footprint of an experiment performed on a known molecule. When the curve is imitated, he says: "That's my good molecule."
Thanks to SAM it is known that Mars has complex organic molecules and that the earth's surface is much younger than scientists believe in ancient times.
"If we want to go to Mars, importing existing resources is useless," Malespin added. "We can dig up the soil, heat it up, and release the water," he says. "Just take the oven and you'll have as much water as we want," he says. The same is true for the various materials that can be fuel for future "rocket workshops".
Without a joystick
On the other side of the United States there are about 15 men and women who are curious about the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, near Los Angeles.
Frank Hartman, who is curious to say, "My favorite moment is when I'm sitting to see images from Mars," said another opportunity that broke down in June, Opportunity.
The driver's task is to plan the Mars day that lasts for 24 hours and 40 minutes of the robot and to program commands to comply with it.
Because there is no joystick or real-time communication, there is little chance of finding a problem such as saturation of opportunity or hole in rock of curiosity caused by rocky soil.
"We have to keep in mind that we rarely know this place," says Hartman.
Scientists and drivers have been attached to robots for years. After Opportunity broke, 14 years later Hartman and his team wanted to cry. "He retired with honor," he says.
Curiosity has been running 19.75km since 2012. One year later, we must achieve our goal of Sharp Mount. A few months later he will lose his Mars monopoly. Two US and European robots are expected to land on Earth in 2020.