Scientists plot driving routes for new Mars rover (Update)

Aug 14, 2012
This image provided by NASA shows a high-resolution 360-degree color panorama of Gale Crater taken by the Curiosity rover, which landed on Mars on August 5, 2012. A low-quality version was released earlier. Curiosity is on a two-year mission to study whether Gale could support microbial life. (AP Photo/NASA)

NASA's newest rover Curiosity has yet to make its first move on Mars, but scientists said Tuesday they are already mapping out possible driving routes to a Martian mountain.

Since landing in Gale Crater near the equator last week, the nuclear-powered rover has been busy getting a head-to-wheel health checkup while parked. It touched down about 5 miles (8 kilometers) from Mount Sharp where signatures of past water have been spotted at the base.

Its ultimate goal is to scale the lower slopes in search of the chemical building blocks of life to determine whether the environment was favorable for microbial life.

The team is "kind of itching to move at this point," said deputy project scientist Ashwin Vasavada of the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, which manages the $2.5 billion mission.

Scientists have been poring over pictures of the landing site snapped by Curiosity and spacecraft circling overhead. The pebble-strewn terrain where the rover landed appeared easy to traverse but the landscape gets more rugged the closer to Mount Sharp.

The team identified half a dozen potential paths through buttes and mesas that are reminiscent of the southwestern United States. Vasavada estimated it'll take a year to make the trip to the mountain driving about the length of a football field a day. Along the way, the six-wheel rover will make pit stops to study interesting rocks and scoop up soil.

Before Curiosity can explore, it has to go through a laborious check of its tools and systems. As the most complex spacecraft sent to Mars, it landed using a novel routine that involved lowering it to the surface by cables.

It just completed an upgrade to its computers and planned to take its first, albeit short, test drive in several days. Engineers still have to test the rover's robotic arm and drill later this month before giving the keys to scientists.

"We're trying to just keep our eyes on the prize and finish these checkouts and then get going," said Vasavada.

Explore further: Astronauts to reveal sobering data on asteroid impacts

More information: Image: A whole new world for Curiosity

4.9 /5 (7 votes)
add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Mojave Desert tests prepare for NASA Mars Roving

May 14, 2012

(Phys.org) -- Team members of NASA's Mars Science Laboratory mission took a test rover to Dumont Dunes in California's Mojave Desert this week to improve knowledge of the best way to operate a similar rover, ...

NASA's mega-rover landed on Mars. What's next?

Aug 12, 2012

(AP) — After a spectacular landing on Mars, the rover Curiosity wasted no time embracing its inner shutterbug, delighting scientists with vistas of Gale Crater complete with sand dunes, mountain views ...

New Mars rover sends higher-resolution image

Aug 06, 2012

(Phys.org) -- About two hours after landing on Mars and beaming back its first image, NASA's Curiosity rover transmitted a higher-resolution image of its new Martian home, Gale Crater. Mission Control at ...

Recommended for you

Astronauts to reveal sobering data on asteroid impacts

11 hours ago

This Earth Day, Tuesday, April 22, three former NASA astronauts will present new evidence that our planet has experienced many more large-scale asteroid impacts over the past decade than previously thought… ...

Rosetta instrument commissioning continues

12 hours ago

We're now in week four of six dedicated to commissioning Rosetta's science instruments after the long hibernation period, with the majority now having completed at least a first initial switch on.

Astronaut salary

12 hours ago

Talk about a high-flying career! Being a government astronaut means you have the chance to go into space and take part in some neat projects—such as going on spacewalks, moving robotic arms and doing science ...

Red moon at night; stargazer's delight

Apr 16, 2014

Monday night's lunar eclipse proved just as delightful as expected to those able to view it. On the East Coast, cloudy skies may have gotten in the way, but at the National Science Foundation's National Optical ...

User comments : 3

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

HeloMenelo
1 / 5 (4) Aug 15, 2012
Aaah... Now this is exactly what i'm talking about, this picture is stunning !!! props to the team !! :)
HeloMenelo
1 / 5 (4) Aug 15, 2012
Wow awesome, sorry just had to double post, this picture really captures the feel of what it must be like to be there !
andrew_planet
not rated yet Aug 18, 2012
What a pity that the Curiosity Rover's power supply didn't come with an external socket to keep on driving. That not being possible use sessile stance. We could have sent a follow up power supply. It would have been a very small vehicle. Very cost effective.

More news stories

Cosmologists weigh cosmic filaments and voids

(Phys.org) —Cosmologists have established that much of the stuff of the universe is made of dark matter, a mysterious, invisible substance that can't be directly detected but which exerts a gravitational ...

Hubble image: A cross-section of the universe

An image of a galaxy cluster taken by the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope gives a remarkable cross-section of the Universe, showing objects at different distances and stages in cosmic history. They range ...

Hackathon team's GoogolPlex gives Siri extra powers

(Phys.org) —Four freshmen at the University of Pennsylvania have taken Apple's personal assistant Siri to behave as a graduate-level executive assistant which, when asked, is capable of adjusting the temperature ...

Better thermal-imaging lens from waste sulfur

Sulfur left over from refining fossil fuels can be transformed into cheap, lightweight, plastic lenses for infrared devices, including night-vision goggles, a University of Arizona-led international team ...

Deadly human pathogen Cryptococcus fully sequenced

Within each strand of DNA lies the blueprint for building an organism, along with the keys to its evolution and survival. These genetic instructions can give valuable insight into why pathogens like Cryptococcus ne ...