Curiosity has taken off on a year-long roadtrip, which is how long it will take the Mars rover to travel the eight kilometers needed to reach its Mount Sharp destination.
NASA said the journey began last week from an area called Glenelg, which is about 400 meters east-southeast of Curiosity’s landing site. According to mission officials, the rover drove about 18 meters toward Mount Sharp on July 4, and another 40 meters on July 7, traveling a total of about 58 meters toward its destination, with 7,942 meters to go.
Curiosity can travel an average of 30 meters per hour – depending on variables such as power levels, slippage, steep terrain and visibility – but the rover will take its time getting to Mount Sharp, stopping, or possibly backtracking, should it spot something of interest. Challenging terrain could also slow the rover’s progress.
The mission team is anxious for Curiosity to explore the lower layers of Mount Sharp, where they expect to find evidence of how the ancient Martian environment changed and evolved.
Each of the layers offers an opportunity to look back into Mars’ geological history, said Rob Manning, the Mars Science Laboratory’s (MSL) chief engineer. Curiosity’s mission to Mars is scheduled to last one Martian year, about 687 Earth days. But, if the rover continues to operate, NASA could extend its mission, allowing Curiosity to continue its journey up Mount Sharp.
“We will continue going up and explore and explore,” Manning said.
Since beginning its mission after last August’s landing, Curiosity has made a number of discoveries, including finding evidence of an ancient wet environment with conditions favorable for microbial life.