NASA map driving routes for Mars rover
Los Angeles: NASA scientists have started mapping out the possible driving routes on Mars for the Curiosity rover which landed on the Red planet on August 6.
The Mars rover has spend its first weekend on Mars getting a 'brain transplant' enabling it to enhance its performance by avoiding hazards while driving and using its strong robotic arm.
Its ultimate goal is to scale the lower slopes in search of the chemical building blocks of life to determine whether the environment was favourable for microbial life.
The team is "kind of itching to move at this point," yesterday said the deputy project scientist Ashwin Vasavada of the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, which manages the USD 2.5 billion mission.
Scientists have been poring over pictures of the landing site snapped by Curiosity and spacecraft circling overhead. The pebble-strewn terrain where the rover landed appeared easy to traverse but the landscape gets more rugged the closer to Mount Sharp.
The team identified half a dozen potential paths through buttes and mesas that are reminiscent of the southwestern United States. Vasavada estimated it'll take a year to make the trip to the mountain driving about the length of a football field a day.
Along the way, the six-wheel rover will make pit stops to study interesting rocks and scoop up soil. Before Curiosity can explore, it has to go through a laborious check of its tools and systems.
As the most complex spacecraft sent to Mars, it landed using a novel routine that involved lowering it to the surface by cables.
It just completed an upgrade to its computers and planned to take its first, albeit short, test drive in several days. Engineers still have to test the rover's robotic arm and drill later this month before giving the keys to scientists.
"We're trying to just keep our eyes on the prize and finish these checkouts and then get going," said Vasavada.
With Agency inputs