It's been a rough year for the Curiosity Mars rover, which suffered a short circuit and shut down temporarily in February. But the little rover that could was back in action within weeks and now it's hit a new milestone, celebrating its third birthday (in Earth years) on Mars.
Curiosity landed on the surface of the red planet on August 5, 2012 at 10:32 p.m. PDT. Its mission: to see if Mars might have, at one time, supported life.
Over the last three years Curiosity has made some fascinating discoveries including:
-Organic carbon molecules, which are the building blocks of life
-Methane in the atmosphere, which could conceivably been produced by living organisms
-Several pieces of evidence that suggest Mars was once a wet place with lakes and flowing streams, and possibly even potable water
And in a sample of stone, Curiosity found sulfur, nitrogen, oxygen, phosphorus and carbon -- all key ingredients necessary for life.
Curiosity also identified two forms of radiation that could pose health dangers to human explorers. NASA hopes to send a manned mission to Mars in the 2030s.
At the end of Curiosity's first year, the lonely rover sang itself a round of "Happy Birthday." NASA's rover team said that won't happen again this year. And in fact, in a Reddit AMA Wednesday, intimated that Curiosity will probably be alone forever.
In response to the question, "Do you think Curiosity will ever be in the presence of a human again? (be it on Mars)," Carolina Martinez, of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, said, "NASA does plan to send humans to Mars in the future, but it is unlikely we would send them to check out the existing rovers on the surface. Too many other interesting places to explore."
If you want to reach out to Curiosity yourself, you can send it a birthday postcard on NASA's website.
And in honor of the anniversary, NASA launched two new web apps to give the people the chance to spend time with Curiosity (sort of).
Mars Trek is like a Google Earth of Mars, which uses images and data from 50 years of exploration. Experience Curiosity gives users "first-hand experience in a day in the life of a Mars rover," with 3D simulations of Curiosity in action and a first-rover views from the camera as it rolls.