Curiosity Mars Rover Checking Possible Smoother Route

The team operating NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity is considering a path across a small sand dune to reach a favorable route to science destinations.

A favorable route would skirt some terrain with sharp rocks considered more likely to poke holes in the rover’s aluminum wheels.

This scene combines images taken by the left-eye camera of the Mast Camera (Mastcam) instrument on NASA's Curiosity Mars rover during the midafternoon, local Mars solar time, of the mission's 526th Martian day, or sol (Jan. 28, 2014). Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

This scene combines images taken by the left-eye camera of the Mast Camera (Mastcam) instrument on NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover during the midafternoon, local Mars solar time, of the mission’s 526th Martian day, or sol (Jan. 28, 2014). Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

While the team has been assessing ways to reduce wear and tear to the wheels, Curiosity has made progress toward a next site for drilling a rock sample and also toward its long-term destination: geological layers exposed on slopes of Mount Sharp. The rover has driven into a mapping quadrant that includes a candidate site for drilling. Meanwhile, testing on Earth is validating capabilities for drilling into rocks on slopes the rover will likely encounter on Mount Sharp.

As NASA's Mars rover Curiosity is progressing toward Mount Sharp, researchers are using the rover's instruments to examine soils and rocks in Gale Crater. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/LANL/CNES/IRAP/LPGNantes/CNRS/IAS

As NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity is progressing toward Mount Sharp, researchers are using the rover’s instruments to examine soils and rocks in Gale Crater. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/LANL/CNES/IRAP/LPGNantes/CNRS/IAS

Curiosity has driven 865 feet (264.7 meters) since Jan. 1, for a total odometry of 3.04 miles (4.89 kilometers) since its August 2012 landing.

Accumulation of punctures and rips in the wheels accelerated in the fourth quarter of 2013. Among the responses to that development, the team now drives the rover with added precautions, thoroughly checks the condition of Curiosity’s wheels frequently, and is evaluating routes and driving methods that could avoid some wheel damage.

A dune about 3 feet (1 meter) high spans the gap between two scarps that might be a gateway to a southwestward route over relatively smooth ground. Curiosity is approaching the site, “Dingo Gap,” from the southeast. The team is using images from the rover to assess whether to cross the dune.

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