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Mars rover Curiosity adds reverse driving for wheel protection

By Liji Varghese | Last Updated: Monday, February 24, 2014 - 16:17

Zee Media Bureau/Liji Varghese

Washington: NASA`s Mars rover Curiosity has finished its first long trek in over months using reverse driving to lessen damage to its wheels.

Curiosity, which crossed the sand dune dubbed as "Dingo Gap" on February 9, is now moving over a terrain which is as smooth as the NASA team had anticipated based on earlier images from orbit. The new route was chosen after the team detected in late 2013 that holes in the vehicle`s aluminum wheels were accumulating faster than anticipated.
The rover covered 329 feet (100.3 meters) on the Martian terrain, the mission`s first long trek that used reverse driving and its farthest one-day advance of any kind in more than three months on February 18.

"The reverse drive validated feasibility of a technique developed with testing on Earth to lessen damage to Curiosity`s wheels when driving over terrain studded with sharp rocks. However, Tuesday`s drive took the rover over more benign ground," NASA said in a statement.

"We wanted to have backwards driving in our validated toolkit because there will be parts of our route that will be more challenging," Jim Erickson, Curiosity Project Manager, NASA`s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California.
"We have changed our focus to look at the big picture for getting to the slopes of Mount Sharp, assessing different potential routes and different entry points to the destination area. No route will be perfect; we need to figure out the best of the imperfect ones," he added.

Curiosity has driven 937 feet (285.5 meters) since the February 9 dune-crossing, for a total odometry of 3.24 miles (5.21 kilometers) since its landing inside Mars` huge Gale Crater in August 2012. Mission scientists have already found solid evidence of ancient conditions favourable for microbial life near Curiosity`s landing site called Yellowknife Bay.

Image Courtesy: NASA/JPL-Caltech

First Published: Thursday, February 20, 2014 - 17:24
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