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One year after Curiosity landed on Mars, what comes next?

(CBS News) LOS ANGELES -- One year ago Tuesday, NASA's controllers were trading high-fives as the Curiosity Rover landed on Mars. That was just the beginning of a mission that has already exceeded expectations.

John Grotzinger
John Grotzinger
CBS News

The planet Mars is 140 million miles away, but stunning images sent back to Earth from the Curiosity Rover have taken us there.

Curiosity made quite an entrance on the Red Planet with its supersonic parachute and rocket-propelled landing platform. Since then, it has worked its CPU off, driving more than a mile on the Martian surface and is now road-tripping to the 18,000-foot-tall Mount Sharp.

Curiosity has already accomplished its main goal: finding rock samples confirming the Red Planet was once a blue planet with life-sustaining water.

"It tells us that a long time ago, when we know there was evidence of life on Earth, maybe there could have been on Mars, as well," says John Grotzinger, the mission's chief scientist.

Michael Meyer
Michael Meyer
CBS News

"Very simply, we discovered a habitable environment," he says. "It turns out to be an ancient lake, probably a lake that existed three-and-a-half billion years ago, when the climate on Mars was very different."

This revolutionary rover took more than a decade to design and build. It has captured 37,000 full images of Mars -- and the public's imagination. More than 1.3 million people follow Curiosity on Twitter, where the rover even posted its own "selfie" from Mars.

Watch: A look back on a momentous year for science, below.

The attention has been a big boost for NASA, which scrapped the space shuttle program and has been hit with budget cuts.

"A lot of people thought that then NASA wasn't doing anything, and Curiosity actually caught the public's attention and demonstrated that, yes, in fact, NASA is doing many things in space, including robotic exploration," says Michael Meyer, the head of the space agency's Mars programs.

NASA hopes Curiosity is paving the way for a manned mission to Mars in the 2030s, when the rover's tracks could be joined by astronauts' bootprints.