July 9, 2014
NASA Mars Orbiter Sees Curiosity Crossing Into New Zone
Guy Webster, NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory
NASA Mars rover Curiosity has driven out of the ellipse, approximately 4 miles wide and 12 miles long (7 kilometers by 20 kilometers), that was mapped as safe terrain for its 2012 landing inside Gale Crater.The High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera on NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter photographed the rover on June 27 at the end of a drive that put Curiosity right on the ellipse boundary.
The landing ellipse is the area within which the rover had a very high probability of touching down when it arrived at Mars on Aug. 5, 2012, PDT (Aug. 6, UTC). The area needed to meet requirements for providing access to scientifically interesting sites while presenting few landing hazards, such as steep slopes or large boulders. Many areas of scientific interest have slopes ineligible for landing safety, and Curiosity was designed to have the capability of driving far enough to get to slopes outside of the landing ellipse. Since landing, Curiosity has driven slightly more than 5 miles (8 kilometers).
NASA's Mars Science Laboratory Project is using Curiosity to assess ancient habitable environments and major changes in Martian environmental conditions. NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, manages the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter and Mars Science Laboratory projects for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington. HiRISE is operated by the University of Arizona, Tucson. The instrument was built by Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp., Boulder, Colorado.