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'Giddy' NASA official asks Curiosity scientists if they'd go to Mars

March 13, 2013|By Amina Khan
  • This set of images compares rocks seen by NASA's Opportunity rover and Curiosity rover at two different parts of Mars. On the left is Wopmay rock, in Endurance Crater, Meridiani Planum, as studied by the Opportunity rover. On the right are the rocks of the Sheepbed unit in Yellowknife Bay, in Gale Crater, as seen by Curiosity. The rover's first drilled rock revealed signs of a past habitable environment.
This set of images compares rocks seen by NASA's Opportunity rover… (NASA/JPL-Caltech/Cornell/MSSS…)

NASA's Curiosity rover has drilled a hole-in-one, discovering signs of a past environment once suitable for living microbes -- and the discovery has left some NASA officials breathless.

The Mars Science Laboratory mission's early achievement of its stated goal before ever reaching its destination, Gale Crater’s 3-mile-high Mt. Sharp, may be inspiring some to even greater Martian ambitions.

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"Just sitting in the audience here, I feel giddy. Because I have an image now of possibly a lake, a freshwater lake, on a Mars with probably a thicker atmosphere, maybe a snow-capped Mt. Sharp," said John Grunsfeld, associate administrator for the space agency’s Science Mission Directorate.

President Obama's goal to send a manned mission to the Red Planet by the 2030s remains far on the horizon -- but the findings still fired up the former astronaut’s imagination.

"It makes me want to go," Grunsfeld told Mars scientists assembled at a Tuesday news conference. "So let me just ask you, how many of you now would like to go to Mars and be able to go with a rock hammer and maybe a little more modern instrumentation?"

There was a long pause. Then Curiosity’s lead scientist John Grotzinger chimed in. 

“I’ll go, John,” the Caltech geologist said, “as long as you can get me back.”

For more on Curiosity's (literally) ground-breaking findings, tune in on Science Now at 2 p.m. Pacific for a live video chat with Mars mission scientist Joel Hurowitz.

Follow me on Twitter @aminawrite.

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