NASA looking for smoother route for Mars rover travels

Jan. 29, 2014 at 6:50 PM
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PASADENA, Calif., Jan. 29 (UPI) -- Controllers of NASA's Mars rover Curiosity say they are considering a smoother path across a small sand dune to reach a favorable route to science destinations.

Such a change in routing would skirt some terrain with sharp rocks considered more likely to poke holes in the rover's aluminum wheels, the agency's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., reported Wednesday.

Curiosity has been moving toward a next site for drilling a rock sample and also toward its long-term destination, geological layers exposed on the slopes of Mount Sharp.

Curiosity, which has driven 865 feet since Jan. 1 and a total of 3.04 miles since its August 2012 landing, suffered an accelerated rate of punctures and rips in its wheels in the fourth quarter of 2013, leading the decision to consider a smoother route to its next destination, Jim Erickson, the JPL project manager for Curiosity, said.

"The decision hasn't been made yet, but it is prudent to go check," he said. "We'll take a peek over the dune into the valley immediately to the west to see whether the terrain looks as good as the analysis of orbital images implies."

The orbital images are being provided by the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment camera on NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.

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