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After 13 years and over 27 miles exploring the dry sea bed of Mars’ Meridiani Planum, NASA’s record-shattering rover 

Happy Birthday to the Mars rover! On August 5, 2012, NASA's Curiosity rover touched down on Mars. Many celebrate this on August 6 because when it landed at 10:32 p.m. PT, most of the world was a day ahead. However, NASA celebrates on August 5.

Five years ago today, at 10:32pm PT (Aug. 6 ET), @MarsCuriosityrover landed on the Red Planet! Discover more:

— NASA (@NASA) August 5, 2017

Originally slated for a 90-day tour of Mars, Opportunity’s mission has been extended multiple times, making it the longest-operating robot on the red planet. The next longest running, Opportunity’s twin Spirit, lasted 8 years, and the Curiosity rover, also prospecting for signs of Mars’ watery past since 2012, has traveled a little over 5 miles so far.

On the night of Aug. 5, 2012, the car-size robot aced a dramatic and harrowing landing, settling softly onto the Red Planet's surface after being lowered on cables by a rocket-powered "sky crane." The success of this unprecedented (and seemingly improbable) maneuver sparked eruptions of emotion at mssion control at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California — and at late-night viewing parties all over the world.

Curiosity landed on Mars at 10:17 p.m. PDT on Aug. 5, that's 1:17 a.m. EDT on Aug. 6 (0517 GMT), with the signal of its success reaching Earth 14 minutes later after crossing the 154 million miles between Mars and Earth. 

Rolling up Mount Sharp

Curiosity worked near its landing site on Gale's floor for its first year on Mars. Then, the nuclear-powered rover began a 5-mile (8 km) trek to the towering Mount Sharp, which rises about 3.4 miles (5.5 km) into the Red Planet sky from Gale's center.

The mountain's foothills had long been Curiosity's main science destination, even before the rover's November 2011 launch. Mission team members wanted the six-wheeled robot to work its way up through Mount Sharp's lower reaches, studying the rock layers there for clues about Mars' long-ago transition from a relatively warm and wet world to the cold, arid place it is today.

And that's what Curiosity has been doing for the past three years. Since arriving at Mount Sharp in September 2014, the robot has climbed about 600 vertical feet (180 meters), drilling, sampling and studying numerous rocks that are part of a geological division that mission scientists call the Murray Formation.

Curiosity found that most of this rock is fine-grained mudstone — classic lake-bed deposits, Vasavada said. Such deposits on Earth generally take millions of years to accumulate, leading the team to conclude that Gale Crater's lake system was long-lasting.

That's a big deal, because Curiosity's work at Yellowknife Bay captured just "a snapshot in time," Vasavada said.

Based on the initial findings, "that lake may only have been around for 100 or 1,000 years at the minimum," he said. "There was a risk that our habitability discovery only applied to a short amount of time." [Photos: Ancient Mars Lake Could Have Supported Life]

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