Destination chosen for Mars rover drive

Aug. 17, 2012 at 6:58 PM
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PASADENA, Calif., Aug. 17 (UPI) -- NASA scientists say they've selected the first driving destination for the Mars Curiosity rover, as the six-wheeled mobile laboratory awaits it marching orders.

The target area 1,300 feet east-southeast of Curiosity's landing site has been dubbed Glenelg and is a natural intersection of three kinds of terrain, NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., said in a release Friday.

"With such a great landing spot in Gale Crater, we literally had every degree of the compass to choose from for our first drive," Curiosity Principal Investigator John Grotzinger of the California Institute of Technology said. "We had a bunch of strong contenders. 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."

One of the three types of terrain intersecting at Glenelg is layered bedrock, attractive as the first drilling target, scientists said.

"We're about ready to load our new destination into our GPS and head out onto the open road," Grotzinger said. "Our challenge is there is no GPS on Mars, so we have a roomful of rover-driver engineers providing our turn-by-turn navigation for us."

In the coming days, in preparation for its first long-distance drive, the rover will exercise each of its steerable wheels, after which it will drive forward about one rover-length, about 10 feet, turn 90 degrees, and then kick into reverse for about 7 feet, NASA engineers said.

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