Mars Curiosity sets one-day driving distance record

July 23, 2013 at 8:21 PM
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PASADENA, Calif., July 23 (UPI) -- NASA says its Curiosity rover on Mars has set a personal best, driving twice as far on Sunday as on any other day of the mission so far.

Starting from a location with an unusually good view for rover engineers to plan a safe path, Curiosity traveled 109.7 yards, NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., reported Tuesday.

"What enabled us to drive so far on [martian 'day'] Sol 340 was starting at a high point and also having Mastcam images giving us the size of rocks so we could be sure they were not hazards," rover JPL rover planner Paolo Bellutta said. "We could see for quite a distance, but there was an area straight ahead that was not clearly visible, so we had to find a path around that area."

Such long drives could become more frequent, the rover team said, with plans to begin using "autonav" capability for the rover to autonomously navigate a path for itself.

The autonomous navigation capability will enable rover planners to command drives that go beyond the route they can confirm as safe from previous images, they said, allowing the rover to use the autonomous capability to choose a safe path for itself beyond that distance.

Curiosity is about three weeks into a multi-month trek from the "Glenelg" area where it worked for the first half of 2013 to an entry point for the mission's major destination, the lower layers of Mount Sharp, JPL said.

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