Mars Rover Approaches New Waypoint
September 10, 2013

Curiosity Rover Closes In On New Waypoint

[ Watch the Video: Curiosity Rover At A New Point On Mars ]

Lee Rannals for - Your Universe Online

NASA's Curiosity rover has reached a new waypoint on the surface of Mars where scientists plan to use the high-tech vehicle for a close-up study.

The patch of exposed bedrock sits in an area informally called "Panorama Point," and was selected as one of five waypoints along the rover's route southwestward from the Glenelg area. Waypoint 1 lies about one-fifth of the way along the 5.3-mile trek, which was plotted out by examining Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter images.

"We want to know how the rocks at Yellowknife Bay are related to what we'll see at Mount Sharp," said the mission's project scientist, John Grotzinger of the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, in a statement. "That's what we intend to get from the waypoints between them. We'll use them to stitch together a timeline - which layers are older, which are younger."

NASA scientists will be using images taken from Panorama Point to select precisely where to stop for a few days to do a little research using some of Curiosity's instruments. The space agency said the rock targets being considered are about 245 feet southwest of Curiosity's current position.

The Mars rover moved 464 feet on September 5, making it the longest one-day drive so far in the mission's 13-month-old history. That drive, along with another 80-foot drive on September 8 brought the rover to the top of Panorama Point.

Jeff Biesiadecki, a rover planner on the Curiosity team at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, said that for the September 5 drive, the team had a long and unobstructed view of the hill they wanted Curiosity to climb.

"We were able to extend the drive well beyond what we could see by enabling the rover's onboard hazard avoidance system," Biesiadecki added.

Curiosity began making its way to Mount Sharp from the Glenelg area a couple of months ago, where it worked for the first half of 2013. The mission made its biggest contribution at this site when Curiosity helped determine that Mars once contained an environment favorable for microbial life.

Just recently, NASA released images of a Martian lunar eclipse taken from Curiosity's perspective. The images show Phobos, the larger of Mars' two moons, as it passes directly in front of the sun. Observations like this enable scientists to gain more precise knowledge about the moons' orbits around the Red Planet.