In yet another landmark achievement, NASA’s Curiosity rover has sent back the first recorded human voice that travelled from Earth to another planet and back.

In spoken words radioed to the rover on Mars and back to NASA’s Deep Space Network (DSN) on Earth, the space agency Administrator Charles Bolden, according to a press statement, noted the difficulty of landing a rover on Mars, congratulated NASA employees and the agency’s commercial and Government partners on the successful landing of Curiosity earlier this month, and said curiosity is what drives humans to explore.

“The knowledge we hope to gain from our observation and analysis of the Gale Crater will tell us much about the possibility of life on Mars as well as the past and future possibilities for our own planet. Curiosity will bring benefits to Earth and inspire a new generation of scientists and explorers, as it prepares the way for a human mission in the not too distant future,” Bolden said in the recorded message, released by NASA yesterday.

“Since the beginning of time, humankind’s curiosity has led us to constantly seek new life, new possibilities just beyond the horizon,” he said.

Terming the development as another “small step” marking human presence beyond Earth, NASA Curiosity programme executive Dave Lavery said it will bring the experience of exploring remote worlds a “little closer” to everyone.

“As Curiosity continues its mission, we hope these words will be an inspiration to someone alive today who will become the first to stand upon the surface of Mars. And like the great Neil Armstrong, they will speak aloud of that next giant leap in human exploration,” Lavery said.

The telephoto images, taken from the 100-millimetre telephoto lens and the 34-milllimetre wide angle lens of the Mast Camera (Mastcam) instrument, beamed back to Earth show a scene of eroded knobs and gulches on a mountainside, with geological layering clearly exposed.

Mastcam has photographed the lower slope of the nearby mountain called Mount Sharp.

“This is an area on Mount Sharp where Curiosity will go,” said Mastcam principal investigator Michael Malin of the Malin Space Science Systems in San Diego.

“Those layers are our ultimate objective. The dark dune field is between us and those layers. In front of the dark sand you see redder sand, with a different composition suggested by its different colour. The rocks in the foreground show diversity — some rounded, some angular, with different histories. This is a very rich geological site to look at and eventually to drive through,” Malin said.

NASA officials said a drive early yesterday placed Curiosity directly over a patch where one of the spacecraft’s landing engines scoured away a few inches of gravelly soil and exposed underlying rock.

Researchers plan to use a neutron-shooting instrument on the rover to check for water molecules bound into minerals at this partially excavated target, they said.

Curiosity, which is three weeks into a two-year prime mission on Mars, will use 10 science instruments to assess whether the selected study area ever has offered environmental conditions favourable for microbial life, NASA officials said.