Mars rover Curiosity set for first test drive
Cape Canaveral: After weeks of testing and calibration NASA's Mars rover Curiosity is all set to take its first test drive on Wednesday.
The rover, which landed on Mars on August 6 after an epic 8-1/2 months’ journey, will get instructions for a 30-minute drive, said Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) mission manager, Mike Watkins, in a conference call on Tuesday.
In its 30 minute drive, Curiosity will move 3 meters forward and then back to its landing site.
NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) said the six-wheeled rover wiggled its four corner wheels side to side for the first time on Mars Tuesday as a test of the steering actuators on those wheels. This was critical preparation for Curiosity's first drive on Mars.
"We wanted to test the steering, because otherwise we would be driving in whatever direction we landed in," Watkins said.
In case the test drive is a success, the Mars rover will leave its landing site in the next three or four days, Watkins said.
The one-ton, nuclear-powered robotic geologist is equipped with 10 science instruments capable of analyzing samples of soil, rocks and atmosphere on the spot and beaming results back to scientists on Earth.
Scientists will ultimately try to drive the six-wheeled rover to a 3-mile-high mound, Mount Sharo, believed to be the remnant of sediment that once completely filled the 96-mile-wide (154-km-wide) basin.
However, the loss of one of the wind sensors came as the first major setback for the two year long mission aimed at hunting for signs of life on the Red planet.
The damage, probably caused during the landing of the rover, will make it difficult for the scientist to measure the wind speed and direction inside Gale Carter.
The rover, which completed the brain transplant on August 13, extended its robotic arm for the first time on Monday (August 20).
The 7-foot-long (2.1-meter-long) arm maneuvers a turret of tools including a camera, a drill, a spectrometer, a scoop, and mechanisms for sieving and portioning samples of powdered rock and soil.