The latest YouTube video released by NASA shows a 360-degree panorama from the Mars Curiosity rover.
Instead of looking like an alien planet, the terrain seen in the video looks like it could have been lifted straight from the Southwestern United States, with its dry, rocky desert. In fact the video shows the Murray Buttes, on lower Mount Sharp, according to HNGN. The Murray Buttes are a number of mounds that measure around 50 feet in height and 200 feet in width.
Murray Buttes reminiscent of U.S. Southwest
The area is named in honor of Bruce Murray, the former director at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., who sadly died in 2013. Murray was also a planetary scientist at the California Institute of Technology.
You can check out the video yourself on the NASA YouTube channel, and explore the rugged environment of the Murray Buttes. You can also see the Gale Crater rim and upper Mount Sharp, in addition to baked mudstone. For reference the dark mesa that you can see to the left of the rover is approximately 60 meters wide.
“The buttes and mesas are capped with rock that is relatively resistant to wind erosion,” NASA says. The rock “helps preserve these monumental remnants of a layer that formerly more fully covered the underlying layer that the rover is now driving on.”
Curiosity rover continues to explore Mars
The images were shot using Curiosity’s Mast Camera on August 5 before their release on Friday. It has been four years since Curiosity landed on the Red Planet, beaming back a stream of amazing images that have allowed us to take a closer look at the Martian surface.
While these images may be impressive they are not the main reason that Curiosity was sent to the Red Planet. NASA sent the rover to investigate whether Mars ever offered a habitable environment, a fact that has now been confirmed.
Curiosity is now tasked with investigating younger layers of Martian terrain on the lower areas of Mount Sharp. The wider aim is to analyze the move from freshwater lakes to more arid states that are less capable of supporting life, as well as investigating the current environment on Mars.
Manned mission to Mars planned for 2030s
NASA needs to look into these themes as part of preparations for a planned manned mission to Mars. As things stand the space agency says that it could land astronauts on the Red Planet by the 2030s.
To that end NASA is also working on the technology that will be necessary to support astronauts during their mission. Not only are new rockets being developed, but space habitats also need to be built. The space agency has invited a number of private sector partners to submit their designs as part of the NEXTStep program.
Among the candidates are Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Orbital ATK, Sierra Nevada Corporation’s Space Systems, Bigelow Aerospace, and Nanoracks. Each company is working on a design that could one day protect the first humans on Mars.
While the prospect of a manned mission is certainly exciting, we will have to make do with some interactive video footage for now. Take a look for yourselves and consider applying to be an astronaut if you want to see the Martian surface with your own eyes one day.