8 Martian Postcards to Celebrate Curiosity’s Landing Anniversary


The NASA rover touched down eight years ago, on Aug. 5, 2012, and will soon be joined by a second rover, Perseverance.


NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover has seen a lot since Aug. 5, 2012, when it first set its wheels inside the 96-mile-wide (154-kilometer-wide) basin of Gale Crater. Its mission: to study whether Mars had the water, chemical building blocks, and energy sources that may have supported microbial life billions of years ago.

Curiosity has since journeyed more than 14 miles (23 kilometers), drilling 26 rock samples and scooping six soil samples along the way as it revealed that ancient Mars was indeed suitable for life. Studying the textures and compositions of ancient rock strata is helping scientists piece together how the Martian climate changed over time, losing its lakes and streams until it became the cold desert it is today.

The Curiosity mission is led by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, which is managed by Caltech in Pasadena, California, and involves almost 500 scientists from the United States and other countries around the world. Here are eight postcards the rover has sent from Mars. Most of the panoramas were taken by the rover’s Mast Camera, or Mastcam, led by Malin Space Science Systems in San Diego.

A Dusty Scientist

A self-portrait of NASA’s Curiosity rover taken on Sol 2082 (June 15, 2018). A Martian dust storm has reduced sunlight and visibility at the rover’s location in Gale Crater. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS
› Full image and caption

Curiosity took this selfie on June 20, 2018 (Sol 2082) as a global dust storm enshrouded Mars, filtering sunlight and obscuring the view. The rover drills rocks to analyze their composition and takes a selfie afterward to capture the landscape each sample was taken from (this one is called “Duluth”). Selfies are created by the Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) camera on the end of the rover’s robotic arm. If you’re wondering why you can’t see the arm in this photo, read more about how selfies are taken here.

Mount Sharp Towers Above

Mount Sharp in the morning illumination on October 13, 2019
The Mast Camera, or Mastcam, on NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover used its telephoto lens to capture Mount Sharp in the morning illumination on Oct. 13, 2019, the 2,555th Martian day, or sol, of the mission. The panorama is composed of 44 individual images stitched together. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS
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Look up from Curiosity’s current location, and you’d be met with this dramatic view of Mount Sharp, the 3-mile-tall (5-kilometer-tall) peak that Curiosity is exploring. Composed of 44 individual images stitched together, this portrait was taken by the Mastcam on Oct. 13, 2019 (Sol 2555).

Curiosity will never venture to the upper portion of the mountain; instead, it’s exploring the many layers found lower down. Each has a different story to tell about how Mars, which was once more like Earth (warmer and wetter), changed over time. The rover it will reach the next layer later this year.

“I love this image because it tells two stories – one about the mission and one about Mars,” said Ashwin Vasavada, Curiosity’s project scientist at JPL. “The crater rim and floor where we started at eight years ago peek in from the left, while spread out before us is the future as Curiosity climbs higher on the mountain.”

You Are Here

NASA's Curiosity rover's approximate location as of July 30, 2020
This image, taken back when NASA’s Curiosity rover was at the base of Mount Sharp on March 24, 2014, indicates the rover’s approximate location as of July 30, 2020 – about 3 1/2 miles away (about 5 1/2 kilometers). Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech
› Larger view

Shot near Mount Sharp’s base on March 24, 2014 (Sol 580), this panorama shows just how far Curiosity has traveled in a little over six years. The arrow indicates the rover’s location today, about 3 1/2 miles away (about 5 1/2 kilometers).

“I can’t help but also think about the corresponding distance we’ve traveled in our understanding of Mars’ habitable past since the time we took this picture,” said Abigail Fraeman of JPL, Curiosity’s deputy project scientist.

You Were There

Curiosity Project Scientist Ashwin Vasavada gives a descriptive tour of the Mars rover’s view in Gale Crater. The white-balanced scene looks back over the journey so far.

“I still can’t get over how amazingly clear the skies were when we took this, and how we could see for miles and miles and miles,” Fraeman said of this 2018 panorama, which shows the floor of Gale Crater as seen from higher up the mountain, at a location called Vera Rubin Ridge. “How spectacular would the rim of Gale Crater have looked to an astronaut if they were standing on Mount Sharp that day?”

Vasavada narrated this video tour of the journey up the mountain.

Martian Spaghetti Western

Wide panorama taken by NASA's Curiosity Mars rover
This wide panorama was taken by NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover on Dec. 19, 2019, the 2,620th Martian day, or sol, of the mission. On the righthand foreground is Western Butte; the ridge with a crusty cap in the background is the Greenheugh pediment, which Curiosity ascended in March of 2020. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS
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Parts of the Martian desert resemble the American Southwest. This wide panorama, shot by the Mastcam on Dec. 19, 2019 (Sol 2620), includes 130 images stitched together. In the foreground on the right is “Western Butte”; the slope with a crusty cap in the background is the “Greenheugh Pediment,” which Curiosity ascended in March 2020 for a sneak peek of terrain scientists hope to investigate later in the mission.

A Sea of Dunes

View of the top surface of a Martian sand dune
Two sizes of wind-sculpted ripples are evident in this view of the top surface of a Martian sand dune. Sand dunes and the smaller type of ripples also exist on Earth. The larger ripples — roughly 10 feet (3 meters) apart — are a type not seen on Earth nor previously recognized as a distinct type on Mars. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS
› Full image and caption

This location, part of “Namib Dune,” shows two different-sized ripples that the wind sculpted in the sand. Curiosity discovered that the larger kind, standing roughly 10 feet (3 meters) apart, are found on Mars only as a result of its thin atmosphere. The panorama was taken on Dec. 13, 2015 (Sol 1192).

Staring at Clouds

Drifting Mars clouds on May 17, 2019
NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover imaged these drifting clouds on May 17, 2019, the 2,410th Martian day, or sol, of the mission, using its black-and-white Navigation Cameras (Navcams). Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech
› Full image and caption

Curiosity occasionally studies clouds to learn more about the Martian atmosphere. There is vanishingly little water in the Martian air, which is 1% as dense as Earth’s air, but water-ice clouds do sometimes form. The clouds shown here, which are likely water-ice, were captured about 19 miles (31 kilometers) above the surface on May 17, 2019 (Sol 2410), using the rover’s black-and-white Navigation Cameras.

Curiosity’s Hole Story

Rock samples NASA's Curiosity Mars rover has collected as of early July 2020
These 26 holes represent each of the rock samples NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover has collected as of early July 2020. A map in the upper left shows where the holes were drilled along the rover’s route, along with where it scooped six samples of soil. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS
› Full image and caption

These 26 holes represent each of the pulverized rock samples NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover has collected with its robotic arm as of early July 2020. A map in the upper left shows where the holes were drilled on the rover’s route, along with where it scooped six samples of soil for analysis.

News Media Contact

Andrew Good
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.
818-393-2433
andrew.c.good@jpl.nasa.gov

Alana Johnson / Grey Hautaluoma
NASA Headquarters, Washington
202-672-4780 / 202-358-0668
alana.r.johnson@nasa.gov / grey.hautaluoma-1@nasa.gov

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    From October 2019 to March 2020, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), in coordination with the Department of Justice's (DOJ) Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR), implemented expedited fear screening pilot programs. Under the Prompt Asylum Claim Review (for non-Mexican nationals) and Humanitarian Asylum Review Process (for Mexican nationals), DHS sought to complete the fear screening process for certain individuals within 5 to 7 days of their apprehension. To help expedite the process, these individuals remained in U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) custody during the pendency of their screenings rather than being transferred to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). From October through December 2019, DHS implemented the programs in the El Paso, Texas, sector and expanded them to nearly all other southwest border sectors before pausing them in March 2020 due to COVID-19. DHS data indicate that CBP identified approximately 5,290 individuals who were eligible for screening under the pilot programs. About 20 percent of individuals were in CBP custody for 7 or fewer days; CBP held about 86 percent of individuals for 20 or fewer days. Various factors affect time in CBP custody such as ICE's ability to coordinate removal flights. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) data indicate that the majority of individuals (about 3,620) received negative fear determinations from asylum officers (see figure). About 1,220 individuals received positive credible fear determinations placing them into full removal proceedings where they may apply for various forms of protection such as asylum. However, as of October 2020, DHS and EOIR could not account for the status of such proceedings for about 630 of these individuals because EOIR's data system does not indicate that a Notice to Appear—a document indicating someone was placed into full removal proceedings before an immigration judge—has been filed and entered into the system, as required. Specifically, DHS and EOIR officials could not determine whether DHS components had filed the notices for these cases with EOIR, nor could they determine if EOIR staff had received but not yet entered some notices into EOIR's data system, per EOIR policy. Ensuring that DHS components file Notices to Appear with EOIR and that EOIR staff enter them into EOIR's data system in a timely manner, as required, would help ensure that removal proceedings move forward for these individuals. Outcomes of Screenings Under Expedited Fear Screening Pilot Programs, October 2019 through March 2020 (as of August 11, 2020) Note: Percentages do not total 100 due to rounding. Individuals apprehended by DHS and placed into expedited removal proceedings are to be removed from the U.S. without a hearing in immigration court unless they indicate a fear of persecution or torture, a fear of return to their country, or express an intent to apply for asylum. Asylum officers conduct such “fear screenings,” and EOIR immigration judges may review negative USCIS determinations. In October 2019, DHS and DOJ initiated two pilot programs to further expedite fear screenings for certain apprehended noncitizens. GAO was asked to review DHS's and DOJ's management of these pilot programs. This report examines (1) actions DHS and EOIR took to implement and expand the programs along the southwest border, and (2) what the agencies' data indicate about the outcomes of individuals' screenings and any gaps in such data. GAO analyzed CBP, USCIS, EOIR, and ICE data on all individuals processed under the programs from October 2019 to March 2020; interviewed relevant headquarters and field officials; and visited El Paso, Texas—the first pilot location. GAO is making two recommendations, including that DHS ensure components file Notices to Appear with EOIR for all those who received positive determinations under the programs, and that EOIR ensure staff enter all such notices in a timely manner, as required, into EOIR's case management system. DHS concurred and DOJ did not concur. GAO continues to believe the recommendation is warranted. For more information, contact at (202) 512-8777 or gamblerr@gao.gov.
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  • Department of Energy Contracting: Improvements Needed to Ensure DOE Assesses Its Full Range of Contracting Fraud Risks
    In U.S GAO News
    GAO identified nine categories of contracting fraud schemes that occurred at the Department of Energy (DOE), including billing schemes, conflicts of interest, and payroll schemes. For example, a subcontractor employee at a site created fraudulent invoices for goods never received, resulting in a loss of over $6 million. In another scheme, a contractor engaged in years of widespread time card fraud, submitting inflated claims for compensation. The contractor agreed to pay $18.5 million to settle the case. DOE reported that it identified nearly $15 million in improper payments due to confirmed fraud in fiscal year 2019. However, due to the difficulty in detecting fraud, agencies—including DOE—incur financial losses related to fraud that are never identified or are settled without admission to fraud and are not counted as such. Fraud can also have nonfinancial impacts, such as fraudsters obtaining a competitive advantage and preventing legitimate businesses from obtaining contracts. DOE has taken some steps and is planning others to demonstrate a commitment to combat fraud and assess its contracting fraud risks, consistent with the leading practices in GAO's Fraud Risk Framework. However, GAO found that DOE has not assessed the full range of contracting fraud risks it faces. Specifically, GAO found DOE's methods for gathering information about its fraud risks captures selected fraud risks—rather than all fraud risks—facing DOE programs. As shown in the figure, DOE's risk profiles for fiscal years 2018 and 2019 did not capture four of nine fraud schemes that occurred at DOE. For example, one entity did not include any fraud risks in its risk profiles, yet GAO identified six types of fraud schemes that occurred at the entity's site. DOE plans to expand its risk assessment process, but officials expect the new process will continue to rely on a methodology that gathers information on selected fraud risks. The Fraud Risk Framework states that entities identify specific tools, methods, and sources for gathering information about fraud risks. Without expanding its methodology to capture, assess, and document all fraud risks facing its programs, DOE risks remaining vulnerable to these types of fraud. Fraud Risks Identified in Fiscal Years 2018 and 2019 Risk Profiles Compared with Types of Fraud Schemes That Have Occurred at DOE DOE is planning to develop an antifraud strategy in fiscal year 2022 and has taken some steps to evaluate and adapt to fraud risks, consistent with leading practices in GAO's Fraud Risk Framework. Part of DOE's effort to manage fraud risks includes adapting controls to address emerging fraud risks. Additionally, DOE is planning to expand its use of data analytics to detect contracting fraud, beginning in fiscal year 2022. DOE relies primarily on contractors to carry out its missions at its laboratories and other facilities, spending approximately 80 percent of its total obligations on contracts. GAO and DOE's Inspector General have reported on incidents of fraud by DOE contractors and identified multiple contracting fraud risks. GAO was asked to examine DOE's processes to manage contracting fraud risks. This report examines, for DOE, (1) types of contracting fraud schemes and their financial and nonfinancial impacts, (2) steps taken to commit to combating contracting fraud risks and the extent to which these risks have been assessed, and (3) steps taken to design and implement an antifraud strategy and to evaluate and adapt its approach. GAO reviewed relevant laws and guidance; reviewed agency media releases, Agency Financial Reports, and DOE Inspector General reports to Congress from 2013 through 2019; and reviewed documents and interviewed officials from 42 DOE field and site offices, contractors, and subcontractors, representing a range of sites and programs. GAO is making two recommendations, including for DOE to expand its fraud risk assessment methodology to ensure all fraud risks facing DOE programs are fully assessed and documented in accordance with leading practices. DOE concurred with GAO's recommendations. For more information, contact Rebecca Shea at (202) 512-6722 shear@gao.gov or Allison B. Bawden at (202) 512-3841, bawdena@gao.gov.
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  • Justice Department Sues Monopolist Google For Violating Antitrust Laws
    In Crime News
    Today, the Department of Justice — along with eleven state Attorneys General — filed a civil antitrust lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia to stop Google from unlawfully maintaining monopolies through anticompetitive and exclusionary practices in the search and search advertising markets and to remedy the competitive harms. The participating state Attorneys General offices represent Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, South Carolina, and Texas.
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  • Former DoD Employee Sentenced for Violently Assaulting Two Neighbors While Living Overseas
    In Crime News
    An Oklahoma City, Oklahoma man was sentenced today to 60 months in prison followed by three years of supervised release in the Western District of Oklahoma for assaulting two neighbors inside their apartment in Okinawa, Japan, while working for the U.S. Armed Forces overseas as a civilian engineer.
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  • District Court Enters Permanent Injunction Shutting Down Technical-Support Fraud Scheme
    In Crime News
    A federal court entered an order of permanent injunction against an individual and five companies in a case against a large-scale technical-support fraud scheme alleged to have defrauded hundreds of elderly and vulnerable U.S. victims, the Department of Justice announced today. 
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  • Foreign-Language Training Companies Admit to Participating in Conspiracy to Defraud the United States
    In Crime News
    Two providers of foreign-language services, Comprehensive Language Center Inc. (CLCI), based in the Washington, D.C., area, and Berlitz Languages Inc. (Berlitz), based in New Jersey, were charged with participating in a conspiracy to defraud the United States by impeding, impairing, obstructing, and defeating competitive bidding for a multi-million dollar foreign-language training contract issued by the National Security Agency (NSA) in 2017, the Department of Justice announced today. 
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  • Justice Department Settles with School Board to Resolve Immigration-Related Discrimination Claims
    In Crime News
    The Justice Department announced today that it reached a settlement with the School Board of Palm Beach County, Florida (the District). The settlement resolves claims that the district discriminated against work-authorized non-U.S. citizen employees by asking them to provide specific and unnecessary documentation showing their legal right to work, because of their immigration status, in violation of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA). 
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  • Small Business Administration: COVID-19 Loans Lack Controls and Are Susceptible to Fraud
    In U.S GAO News
    In April 2020, the Small Business Administration (SBA) moved quickly to implement the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), which provides loans that are forgivable under certain circumstances to small businesses affected by COVID-19. Given the immediate need for these loans, SBA worked to streamline the program so that lenders could begin distributing these funds as soon as possible. For example, lenders were permitted to rely on borrowers' self-certifications for eligibility and use of loan proceeds. As a result, there may be significant risk that some fraudulent or inflated applications were approved. Since May 2020, the Department of Justice has publicly announced charges in more than 50 fraud-related cases associated with PPP funds. In April 2020, SBA announced it would review all loans of more than $2 million to confirm borrower eligibility, and SBA officials subsequently stated that they would review selected loans of less than $2 million to determine, for example, whether the borrower is entitled to loan forgiveness. However, SBA did not provide details on how it would conduct either of these reviews. As of September 2020, SBA reported it was working with the Department of the Treasury and contractors to finalize the plans for the reviews. Because SBA had limited time to implement safeguards up front for loan approval, GAO believes that planning and oversight by SBA to address risks in the PPP program is crucial moving forward. SBA's efforts to expedite processing of Economic Injury Disaster Loans (EIDL)—such as the reliance on self-certification—may have contributed to increased fraud risk in that program as well. In July 2020, SBA's Office of Inspector General (OIG) reported indicators of widespread potential fraud—including thousands of fraud complaints—and found deficiencies with SBA's internal controls. In response, SBA maintained that its internal controls for EIDL were robust, including checks to identify duplicate applications and verify account information, and that it had provided banks with additional antifraud guidance. The Department of Justice, in conjunction with other federal agencies, also has taken actions to address potential fraud. Since May 2020, the department has announced fraud investigations related to the EIDL program and charges against recipients related to EIDL fraud. SBA has made or guaranteed more than 14.5 million loans and grants through PPP and EIDL, providing about $729 billion to help small businesses adversely affected by COVID-19. However, the speed with which SBA implemented the programs may have increased their susceptibility to fraud. This testimony discusses fraud risks associated with SBA's PPP and EIDL programs. It is based largely on GAO's reports in June 2020 (GAO-20-625) and September 2020 (GAO-20-701) that addressed the federal response, including by SBA, to the economic downturn caused by COVID-19. For those reports, GAO reviewed SBA documentation and interviewed officials from SBA, the Department of the Treasury, and associations that represent lenders and small businesses. GAO also met with officials from the SBA OIG and reviewed OIG reports. In its June 2020 report, GAO recommended that SBA develop and implement plans to identify and respond to risks in PPP to ensure program integrity, achieve program effectiveness, and address potential fraud. SBA neither agreed nor disagreed, but GAO believes implementation of this recommendation is essential. For more information, contact William B. Shear at (202) 512-4325 or shearw@gao.gov.
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  • Deputy Assistant Attorney General for the National Security Division Adam Hickey Delivers Remarks at the ACI 2nd National Forum on FARA
    In Crime News
    Over the last few years, a conventional wisdom has developed about the arc of FARA enforcement.  It goes a little something like this: In the beginning, Congress created FARA. Then DOJ rested.  For nearly 80 years, it was not enforced, carried no penalties, and was largely ignored.  Beginning in 2017, the Special Counsel’s Office used the statute to investigate and charge Russian Internet trolls and politically influential Americans alike.  Suddenly, this vague statute transformed from an administrative afterthought into an unpredictable source of criminal liability.  FARA registrations skyrocketed, and conferences of white collar defense attorneys organized soon thereafter. 
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  • Owner of Bitcoin Exchange Convicted of Racketeering Conspiracy for Laundering Millions of Dollars in International Cyber Fraud Scheme
    In Crime News
    A Bulgarian national was found guilty today for his role in a transnational and multi-million dollar scheme to defraud American victims through online auction fraud.
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  • Appeals Court Upholds 27 Month Prison Sentence Of Former Penn National Horse Trainer
    In Crime News
    The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Middle District of Pennsylvania announced that on Jan. 11, 2021, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit affirmed both the conviction and 27-month prison sentence of Murray Rojas, age, 54, of Grantville, Pennsylvania. That sentence was imposed by Senior U.S. District Court Judge Sylvia H. Rambo on May 6, 2019, after Rojas was convicted by a jury on multiple counts of causing prescription animal drugs to become misbranded in violation of the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FDCA), as well as conspiracy to commit misbranding.
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