Mars rover makes longest drive in months -- in reverse

Feb. 19, 2014 at 8:02 PM   |   Comments

PASADENA, Calif., Feb. 19 (UPI) -- NASA says its Mars Curiosity rover has finished its first long trek using reverse driving intended to lessen damage to its wheels when driving over sharp rocks.

On Tuesday the rover covered 329 feet driving backwards for its farthest one-day advance of any kind in more than three months, the space agency reported Wednesday.

"We wanted to have backwards driving in our validated toolkit because there will be parts of our route that will be more challenging," Curiosity Project Manager Jim Erickson of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., said of the reverse technique developed with testing on Earth.

The rover team used images taken from orbit to reassess possible routes after detecting in late 2013 that holes in the vehicle's aluminum wheels were accumulating faster than anticipated.

To get to the chosen route, Curiosity had to cross over a 3-foot-tall dune, which it did Feb. 9.

"After we got over the dune, we began driving in terrain that looks like what we expected based on the orbital data," Erickson said. "There are fewer sharp rocks, many of them are loose, and in most places there's a little bit of sand cushioning the vehicle."

The mission's destinations remain the same, JPL said, investigating the lower slopes of Mount Sharp where water-related minerals have been detected from orbit.

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