Mars Rover's Weird Cargo
NASA's Mars rover Curiosity brought some interesting tools and features to the Red Planet when it landed on Aug. 5, 2012. For example, the six-wheeled robot is carrying a century-old penny and President Obama's signature — and perhaps your signature, too!Which item do you find the strangest or most surprising?
FIRST STOP: A Lucky Martian Penny
1909 Lincoln Penny
Curiosity totes a 1909 Lincoln penny, which serves as a camera calibration target for the rover's Mars Hand Lens Imager camera. MAHLI took this photo on Sept. 9, 2012. [Full story]
NEXT: President Obama's Autograph
Autograph of President Obama
Curiosity's deck bears a plaque containing signatures of several high-up U.S. officials, including President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden. Curiosity's MAHLI camera snapped this shot on Sept. 19, 2012. [Full story]
NEXT: The American Flag
Curiosity's Stars and Stripes
An American flag medallion is bolted to one of Curiosity's rocker arms, replacing flight hardware that was deemed unnecessary. The aluminum medallion measures 2.68 inches (6.8 centimeters) in diameter.
NEXT: Teenage Girl's Signature
Clara Ma's Signature
Clara Ma gave Curiosity its name, submitting the winning entry in a NASA essay contest at the tender age of 12. In 2009, she was invited to NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., to sign her name on the rover during its construction. [Full story]
NEXT: JPL in Morse Code
JPL in Morse Code
Curiosity's wheels sport openings that spell out "J-P-L" in Morse code as the rover rambles across the Martian surface. While the letters honor the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, which manages the rover's mission, they also serve a scientific purpose. They allow Curiosity's drivers to detect wheel slippage by comparing calculated distance to actual distance covered (by taking measurements of photographs). [Full story]
NEXT: Smartphone Tags
"Augmented Reality" Tag
Curiosity's "augmented reality" or AR tag, visible in the middle of this image, will allow smartphone users to obtain more information about the rover's mission in the future, NASA officials say.
NEXT: Strange Markings
Fiduciary markers are the small black-and-white circular features seen on Curiosity's upper surfaces. These markers allow the rover's cameras to verify the distances traveled by various moving parts.
NEXT: A Million Names
1.24 Million Names
Two dime-size silicon chips on Curiosity's deck bear the etched names of more than 1.24 million people who submitted their monikers to NASA. The names were etched with a specialized electron beam machine at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
Leonardo da Vinci's full "Codex on Bird Flight" also found its way onto one of the chips, in microscopic scale. So did an etched version of a self-portrait of the great artist and scientist.
NEXT: Mars Sundial
Curiosity also carries a sundial produced by the University of Washington. NASA's Spirit and Opportunity rovers, which landed on Mars in January 2004, also carried similar sundials.
Curiosity's sundial features the inscription "To Mars To Explore," and a summary of humanity's efforts to understand the Red Planet:
"For millennia, Mars has stimulated our imaginations. First we saw Mars as a wandering Red Star, a bringer of war from the abode of the gods. In recent centuries, the planet’s changing appearance in telescopes caused us to think that Mars had a climate like the Earth’s. Our first space age views revealed only a cratered, Moon-like world but later missions showed that Mars once had abundant liquid water. Through it all, we have wondered: Has there been life on Mars? To those taking the next steps to find out, we wish a safe journey and the joy of discovery."
NEXT: Ancient Knots
Ancient Maritime Knots
On the decks of NASA's Curiosity rover, some of the most advanced pieces of equipment ever developed are being held together by some of the oldest forms of human technology: cleverly looped ropes. Ancient reef knots and clove hitches are used to tie up key pieces of the rover's gear. [Full Story]