One small tread for Curiosity, one giant leap for roverkind

By Phil Plait | October 9, 2012 7:03 am

I’m posting this just because I can: a closeup of the tread track left by the Mars Curiosity rover’s wheel in the sand:

That image was taken by the left MASTCAM on Sol 57, the 57th Mars day after the rover landed – October 3, 2012 to you and me, stuck as we are here on Earth.

If this picture looks familiar, if it tickles some part of your brain as it did mine, then it’s probably because it bears a remarkable similarity to the bootprint left on the Moon by Buzz Aldrin. That iconic image will forever represent the moment humanity’s foot first set upon an alien world.

Perhaps currently there is no one iconic picture from Mars that has earned its place in history’s archive. But that day may yet come when we see a picture very similar to Buzz’s… and the dust compressed by a human boot will be red, not grey.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Cool stuff, NASA, Pretty pictures, Space
MORE ABOUT: Buzz Aldrin, Curiosity, Mars

Comments (20)

  1. Mark O'Leary

    Uh, Houston, we have a problem. Seems the Bad Astronomer ™ thinks Buzz Aldrin was the first human to set foot on the Moon. Please advise. Over.

  2. Cz-David

    When I see the moon foot picture… there is always a few seconds of perspective uncertainty… On the first look the foot always looks to be beveled towards me… I have to force my brain to view it correctly every time. Weird.

  3. Chris

    Perhaps after the robot apocalypse, our robot overlords will look back on these pictures as their ancestors first escape from the clutches of their organic captors.

  4. Wes

    Hmmm, that Martian sunset picture is pretty iconic if you ask me.

  5. Where is the US flag on Curiosity? An utter miracle of science, technology, and application is sitting on the planet Mars bureaucratically mumbling. It is triumphantly sniffing its own posterior, wobbling back and forth, promising great things in a future that will never arrive. NASA is bending a metal hangar back and forth, marveling at how the material stiffens and heats with contunued flexing, until it breaks. That fulfills all administrative metrics without the nasty imposition of information gathered and processed by the undeserving.

    The next mission to Mars will be the size of an 18-wheeler. It will blast music into 7 torr of CO_2, noting how Lady Gaga harmonics contrast with those of hip-hop, reggae, Stomp, and Jalisco mariachi groups bleating shrill expiations of corazon. If there is life on Mars, it will come out to greet the new visitor – to be addressed with a new Mars probe… aesthetically proportioned as the Eiffel Tower (that has the volumetric density of silica aerogel, and therefore Officially no weight, implying easy transport). More studies are needed.

  6. shawmutt

    I have a feeling that tread mark won’t be around as long as the moon print…

  7. Messier Tidy Upper

    Oh come on that’s a martian sidewinder track if ever I saw one! ;-)

    Seriously, wheels on Mars, wheels of a laser armed, nuclear powered chemistry lab bearing rover. That’s seriously cool.

  8. Hal

    I’ll just say that I LOVE these ordinary pictures of rocks and tire tracks. The resolution and color just make it look so real; like Mars is just another place.

  9. Stephan M

    I just read in the German news (Der Spiegel online) that the Rover mission was interrupted to examine a little metallic looking object. Have you heard about that and what’s your take on this?

  10. @4. shawmutt : “I have a feeling that tread mark won’t be around as long as the moon print…”

    The answer my friend is blowing in the wind, the answer is blowing in the martian wind.
    – With apologies to Bob Dylan.

    PS. Same answer also for why Curiosity is nuclear not solar panel powered. ;-)

    PPS. Earthly Sidewinder clip for track comparison linked to my name here.

  11. Mark O’Leary (#10): Where did I say that? I said the picture of Buzz’s print represents the moment we first stepped foot on another world. Not that it was the first bootprint left. It’s a metaphor for the entire Apollo 11 mission.

  12. AnthonyD.

    @UncleAl
    “Where is the US flag on Curiosity?”

    I guess you don’t spend time actually looking at the raw images feeds. There IS a flag, but what’s the difference if there weren’t? Is the mission somehow flawed if there were no flag?

    “An utter miracle of science, technology, and application is sitting on the planet Mars bureaucratically mumbling.”

    What? (see my first response)

    “It is triumphantly sniffing its own posterior, wobbling back and forth, promising great things in a future that will never arrive.”

    Again, what? What can a one ton, nuclear-powered robot promise to people? Nothing. The only thing it can do is what it was built for, SCIENCE! Just because one person doesn’t get the purpose of the machine does NOT make the machine irrelevant.

    “NASA is bending a metal hangar back and forth, marveling at how the material stiffens and heats with contunued flexing, until it breaks.”

    NASA is doing many things. You should acquaint yourself with the many current, and proposed missions at http://www.nasa.gov/missions/index.html

    Many things that we use in our daily lives are a product of NASA’s work, or work done with NASA. You should start reading the NASA Spinoffs magazine, it goes back over 40 years.

    There are many Earth monitoring missions that track hurricanes, CO2 levels, polar ice, and various atmospheric missions. There are many early response missions that aid in saving lives. How is this just bending a wore back and forth, and how would make that bad science anyway? I can think of plenty of reasons to test the heat resistance of wires. I once read a journal article on the physics of crumpled paper. Is that wasted science?

    “It will blast music into 7 torr of CO_2, noting how Lady Gaga harmonics contrast with those of hip-hop, reggae, Stomp, and Jalisco mariachi groups bleating shrill expiations of corazon.”

    You obviously do not see what a great idea it was to broadcast new music through Curiosity and thus reach a much wider audience than NASA previously had. This audience includes many voting adults, and children who have parents who vote. When people who vote love NASA they tend to vote against people who will cut NASA’s budget. Do you also think broadcasting the feed from the Moon during the Apollo program was a bad idea, or a waste?

    “If there is life on Mars, it will come out to greet the new visitor.”

    This just shows you do not know what you are talking about. Curiosity is NOT looking for life. It is a geology mission sent to investigate the history of Mars and gather data on the ability for life to have been present. It will NOT find life because it is NOT capable of it, unless this life is a multicellular organism running around (that’s a joke).

    *Sorry if I submitted this twice but the mobile browser switched to desktop and I can’t see if it sent*

  13. AnthonyD.

    @UncleAl
    “Where is the US flag on Curiosity?”

    I guess you don’t spend time actually looking at the raw images feeds. There IS a flag, but what’s the difference if there weren’t? Is the mission somehow flawed if there were no flag?

    “An utter miracle of science, technology, and application is sitting on the planet Mars bureaucratically mumbling.”

    What? (see my first response)

    “It is triumphantly sniffing its own posterior, wobbling back and forth, promising great things in a future that will never arrive.”

    Again, what? What can a one ton, nuclear-powered robot promise to people? Nothing. The only thing it can do is what it was built for, SCIENCE! Just because one person doesn’t get the purpose of the machine does NOT make the machine irrelevant.

    “NASA is bending a metal hangar back and forth, marveling at how the material stiffens and heats with contunued flexing, until it breaks.”

    NASA is doing many things. You should acquaint yourself with the many current, and proposed missions at http://www.nasa.gov/missions/index.html

    Many things that we use in our daily lives are a product of NASA’s work, or work done with NASA. You should start reading the NASA Spinoffs magazine, it goes back over 40 years.

    There are many Earth monitoring missions that track hurricanes, CO2 levels, polar ice, and various atmospheric missions. There are many early response missions that aid in saving lives. How is this just bending a wire back and forth, and how would that make bad science anyway? I can think of plenty of reasons to test the heat resistance of wires. I once read a journal article on the physics of crumpled paper. Is that wasted science?

    “It will blast music into 7 torr of CO_2, noting how Lady Gaga harmonics contrast with those of hip-hop, reggae, Stomp, and Jalisco mariachi groups bleating shrill expiations of corazon.”

    You obviously do not see what a great idea it was to broadcast new music through Curiosity and thus reach a much wider audience than NASA previously had. This audience includes many voting adults, and children who have parents who vote. When people who vote love NASA they tend to vote against people who will cut NASA’s budget. Do you also think broadcasting the feed from the Moon during the Apollo program was a bad idea, or a waste?

    “If there is life on Mars, it will come out to greet the new visitor.”

    This just shows you do not know what you are talking about. Curiosity is NOT looking for life. It is a geology mission sent to investigate the history of Mars and gather data on the ability for life to have been present. It will NOT find life because it is NOT capable of it, unless this life is a multicellular organism running around (that’s a joke).

    *Sorry if I submitted this twice but the mobile browser switched to desktop and I can’t see if it sent*

  14. Thomas Siefert

    Must be a black and white photo, why else would the boot print appear to be grey?
    Everybody knows the Moon is made from green cheese.

  15. Something I’ve often wondered about but never seen addressed: would those first bootprints on the Moon have been blown away in the backwash of the lander’s ascent? Seems likely to me, but with no appreciable atmosphere on the moon, the physics would be different.

  16. @Anthony – Dude, don’t feed the trolls. If you feed them they keep coming back.

  17. VinceRN

    I hope I live to see red dust compressed by a human boot, I once thought I would. Now, at 47, with perhaps as many left to live, it looks doubtful.

  18. Design Flawed

    @VinceRN – Re: Don’t feed the trolls”

    YES feed them! Rebut them, call them out on their faulty logic or poor research! No, I don’t agree with responding to the slack jawed commentators you see on youtube, but when someone walks into a forum like this with a ho-hum, boo-hoo attitude, do EXACTLY what AnthonyD did. Show them your work, and effort, to know and understand this world around us. We must become just as vocal (I believe even more-so) as those who are opposed, so our voices are heard above the negativity. And if you do not have the time, or can not muster the effort, at least applaud those who do, so they know their voice was heard louder.

    Thank you for your time AnthonyD

  19. Panic1

    @RWaltz – Because it isn’t very hard to push a couple of guys up into an orbit when the gravity is so low as on the moon.

  20. DanM

    Besides, if it weren’t for trolls, who would we psychically abuse?

    (ducks to avoid psychically thrown tomatoes)

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