Curiosity wiggling its wheels
August 22, 2012

Curiosity Preparing For First Drive On Mars

Lee Rannals for - Your Universe Online

The Mars Curiosity rover has been sitting in one spot on the Red Planet since it first touched down back on August 5, but NASA says its controllers are preparing it for its first drive.

NASA has been testing out Curiosity's instruments, getting it all geared up for its primary two year mission to search for ancient extraterrestrial life on Mars.

In the past few weeks, the rover has been taking photos from various cameras, and even sent out a laser blast to a nearby rock to check its ChemCam instrument.

Another instrument is checking for water in minerals in three feet of ground beneath the rover by using a technology similar to one used on Earth to find oil.

"Curiosity has begun shooting neutrons into the ground," Igor Mitrofanov of Space Research Institute, Moscow, principal investigator for this the Dynamic Albedo of Neutrons (DAN), said in a prepared statement. "We measure the amount of hydrogen in the soil by observing how the neutrons are scattered, and hydrogen on Mars is an indicator of water."

Also, Curiosity has been acting as a weather station for Mars, checking air temperature, ground temperature, air pressure, wind and other variables every hour inside Gale Crater.

On a typical Martian day during Curiosity's stay, air temperatures go from 28 degrees to minus 103 degrees Fahrenheit. Ground temperatures change between 37 degrees to minus 132 degrees Fahrenheit.

"We will learn about changes from day to day and season to season," Javier Gómez-Elvira of the Centro de Astrobiología, Madrid, Spain and principal investigator for the suite of weather sensors, said.

The center Javier works at, which provided the instrument, will be posting the daily weather reports taken by Curiosity online within a week or so.

Monday, Curiosity wiggled its four corner wheels from side to side for the first time, testing out its steering actuators. This move sets Curiosity up to begin its first driving test on Mars.

"Late tonight, we plan to send Curiosity the commands for doing our first drive tomorrow," Curiosity Mission Manager Michael Watkins of JPL said on Monday.

During the test, the rover will move forward about 10 feet, turn right, then back up and park slightly to the left of its old spot, according to mission manager Mike Watkins.

The test drive still falls in line with NASA checking out the rover's systems and ensuring Curiosity is good to go for its primary mission.