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Road Trip! Curiosity Prepares for Some Long-Distance Driving

The 20-inch-high "Point Lake" outcrop near Curiosity's current position (NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS)

The 20-inch-high “Point Lake” outcrop near Curiosity’s current position (NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS)

It’s time for Curiosity to get into high gear! NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory mission is approaching its biggest turning point since landing its rover, Curiosity, inside Mars’ Gale Crater last summer.

Curiosity is finishing investigations in an area smaller than a football field where it has been working for six months, and it will soon shift to a distance-driving mode headed for an area about 5 miles (8 kilometers) away, at the base Mount Sharp.

“We’re hitting full stride,” said Mars Science Laboratory Project Manager Jim Erickson of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif. “We needed a more deliberate pace for all the first-time activities by Curiosity since landing, but we won’t have many more of those.”

No additional rock drilling or soil scooping is planned in the “Glenelg” area that Curiosity entered last fall as the mission’s first destination after landing. To reach Glenelg, the rover drove east about a third of a mile (500 meters) from the landing site. To reach the next destination, Mount Sharp (officially Aeolis Mons) Curiosity will drive toward the southwest for many months.

“We don’t know when we’ll get to Mount Sharp,” Erickson said. “This truly is a mission of exploration, so just because our end goal is Mount Sharp doesn’t mean we’re not going to investigate interesting features along the way.”

Colorized image of Mount Sharp from Curiosity's Navcam

Colorized image of Mount Sharp from Curiosity’s Navcam

The science team has chosen three targets for brief observations before Curiosity leaves the Glenelg area: the boundary between bedrock areas of mudstone and sandstone, a layered outcrop called “Shaler” and a pitted outcrop called “Point Lake.”

JPL’s Joy Crisp, deputy project scientist for Curiosity, said “Shaler might be a river deposit. Point Lake might be volcanic or sedimentary. A closer look at them could give us better understanding of how the rocks we sampled with the drill fit into the history of how the environment changed.”

Source: NASA MSL News

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About Jason Major

Jason is a Rhode Island-based graphic designer, photographer, nature lover, space exploration fanatic, and coffee addict. In no particular order.

Posted on June 6, 2013, in Mars and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

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