After an eight-month journey, the Mars rover Curiosity landed on the Red Planet on August 6, 2012. Its mission is to explore Martian climate, soil and geology, and to determine if Mars might ever have supported life. Curiosity is roughly the size of a small SUV and is the fourth NASA rover on the planet.
Join the Exploratorium for a series of live (and recorded) webcasts about the Mars Science Laboratory mission. There is also a series of articles about Curiosity and its predecessor rovers: Spirit, Opportunity and Sojourner. "With each new Mars mission, NASA has reused technologies and design elements that have worked well in the past. Curiosity has six-wheels, for example, as did the earlier rovers, and a rocker-bogie suspension system that has proven to provide excellent stability and obstacle-climbing ability."
In this interactive simulation, you can reenact the entry, descent and landing of the Curiosity and "view" where the rover currently is by controlling the date, time, and speed of the simulation. To begin, look for Tours & Features in the upper right-hand corner, and choose Curiosity EDL. In other features, you can fly through the solar system and "explore the cosmos from your computer."
Visit this NASA/Jet Propulsion Laboratory site to answer all your burning questions about Curiosity and the Mars Science Laboratory. How does the Curiosity land? What's its mission? Send the rover a message, or ask a question of Dr. C, a computerized Mars expert. "Dr. C. is in beta form, which means we're testing him out... and you can help!" This computerized expert is based on real-life expert Philip R. Christensen, a professor of Geological Science at Arizona State University.
NASA is well-known for the quality and quantity of their sites, and their coverage of the Mars rover missions is no exception. Best clicks are the educational animations (look for Multimedia in the right-hand column) and Mars for Kids (in the left-hand menu.) Mars for Kids is a fun site for elementary students, complete with games (collect rock samples against the clock in 3D Mars Rover) and activities (create a topographic map.)
"Mars is so much like the Earth that we have to go there and see what happened. Where did the water go? When we look at close-up pictures of Mars, we see stream beds where water used to flow. We see big canyons and ice caps at the North and South Poles of Mars. Our planets are a lot alike. But something happened on Mars to make the water disappear and make it a cold place with a very thin atmosphere. So, we're sending robot instruments and rovers to Mars to study the environment and look for signs of life."