U.S. Martian Rover Nearing First Major Drive

Posted September 13th, 2012 at 5:00 am (UTC-5)
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The Mars rover Curiosity will undergo a final round of mechanical checks Thursday before making its first lengthy drive across the surface of the Red Planet.

Engineers with the U.S. space agency NASA have kept Curiosity parked in one spot for the past week while testing its sophisticated instruments, including a high-resolution camera and a tool designed to analyze a Martian rock's chemical makeup. Tests have also been run on Curiosity's 2.1-meter-long arm, which will scoop up dirt and rock for processing.

In addition to final tests on the robotic arm, engineers will also use Curiosity's camera to record video of the Martian moon Phobos passing in front of the sun.

Mission manager Jennifer Trosper told reporters Wednesday that Curiosity has “performed almost flawlessly” during the tests. Trosper said the six-wheeled rover will start to “drive, drive, drive” towards a site dubbed Glenelg where three types of terrain intersect. Scientists hope to find rock and soil suitable enough for Curiosity's first sample testing.

Curiosity landed in the planet's Gale Crater last month to begin a two-year mission to determine if the Martian environment has ever been hospitable to life. It has traveled on the Martian surface about 109 meters since then, with its ultimate destination Mount Sharp, a mountain rising from the floor of the crater.