Thursday, August 30, 2012

Curiosity Begins 1st Long Martian Drive

Curiosity headed off eastward Tuesday (Aug. 28) toward a spot called Glenelg, where three different types of terrain come together in one place. The 52-foot (16-meter) drive marks the rover's first big move away from "Bradbury Landing," where Curiosity touched down on the night of Aug. 5.
"This drive really begins our journey toward the first major driving destination, Glenelg, and it's nice to see some Martian soil on our wheels," mission manager Arthur Amador, of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., said in a statement. "The drive went beautifully, just as our rover planners designed it."
Curiosity had made two short drives before Tuesday's big move. These previous jaunts tested the rover's mobility system and positioned it to study a patch of ground scoured by Curiosity's rocket-powered "sky crane" descent stage, which lowered the six-wheeled robot to the Martian surface on cables.

Glenelg is about 1,300 feet (400 m) away, so it'll take Curiosity a while to get there, especially since researchers plan to make some stops along the way.
"We are on our way, though Glenelg is still many weeks away," said Curiosity lead scientist John Grotzinger, of Caltech in Pasadena. "We plan to stop for just a day at the location we just reached, but in the next week or so we will make a longer stop."
During that longer stop (at a yet-to-be-determined site), Curiosity will test out its robotic arm and some of the instruments that it carries, such as the Alpha Particle X-ray Spectrometer, officials said.
The rover's stay at Glenelg promises to be even longer. Mission scientists are eager to study the diverse set of geological formations at the site, and they will likely use Curiosity's drill — which can bore 1 inch (2.5 centimeters) into solid rock — there for the first time.


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