NASA’S CURIOSITY ROVER is preparing to begin its first drive on the surface of Mars since landing on the Red Planet on 6 August.
Researchers back on Earth said they had a lot of difficulty in choosing a route for Curiosity’s road trip given the options presented by the rover’s landing position.
“We had a bunch of strong contenders,” Curiosity principal investigator John Grotzinger of the California Institute of Technology during a press conference. “It is the kind of dilemma planetary scientists dream of, but you can only go one place for the first drilling for a rock sample on Mars.”
“That first drilling will be a huge moment in the history of Mars exploration.”
The team has decided that the rover will travel about 400 metres south-east of its landing site to a location called ‘Glenelg’. The spot has been identified as an interesting drilling site as three types of terrain intersect there. The plan is for the rover to later make its way towards Mount Sharp.
Image showing Curiosity’s landing location and the destinations scientists want it to investigate during its two-year mission on Mars, starting with Glenelg. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Arizona)
Curiosity hasn’t moved since it landed on Mars earlier this month but researchers are planning to test its mobility this week by moving it forward and backwards briefly before it sets off on its first proper run.
In preparation for its first drive on Mars, the rover will be testing its “rock-zapping” laser tonight. The powerful ChemCham device can be used to help analyse the chemical composition of rocks by vaporising the rock surface.
“We are going to hit it with 14 millijoules of energy 30 times in 10 seconds,” said ChemCam principal investigator Roger Wiens.
“It is not only going to be an excellent test of our system, it should be pretty cool too.”