NASA Test Drives Rover To Prepare For Mars Exploration
Members from NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory mission preformed a “test drive” of the Mars rover in Dumont Dunes in California’s Mojave Desert last week. The test rover, similar to the rover Curiosity that is currently on its way to land on Mars in August, will expand understanding of the optimum method of controlling Curiosity when it is ready to explore Mars.
Equipped with the same version of Curiosity’s mobility system, almost everything else on the test rover was removed in order for it to weigh virtually the same on earth as Curiosity will weigh in Mars’ reduced gravity. Putting the test rover through many measures on upwind and downwind areas of the California dunes will allow scientists to better understand how to operate Curiosity on dunes close to a mountain in the center of Gale Crater on Mars.
In order for Curiosity (launched November 26, 2011) to be successful, it must first land securely, which cannot be guaranteed on Mars. Using advanced technology, NASA will attempt to land the heftiest rover on the most limited target area on Mars for the first time. These improvements on landing capabilities of heavier equipment may eventually lead to human led missions to Mars.
The landing of Curiosity is scheduled for the evening of August 5, 2012, PDT (early on August 6, Universal Time and EDT). The two yearlong undertaking will focus on layers in Gale Crater’s central rise, Mount Sharp, and may enlighten NASA of the area’s past ability to harbor microbial life forms. The Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, of NASA supervises this mission for NASA Science Mission Directorate, Washington.
For more information pertaining to Curiosity, see http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/msl/index.html or http://mars.jpl.nasa.gov/msl/, or you can follow the mission on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/marscuriosity and on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/marscuriosity.
Image 2 (below): Michael Malin, left, principal investigator for three science cameras on NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover, comments to a news reporter during tests with Curiosity’s mobility-test stand-in, Scarecrow, on Dumont Dunes in California’s Mojave Desert. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech