NASA recently tested a Mars rover in California’s Mojave Desert to prepare for the August landing of its Curiosity rover on the red planet.
The test rover put through paces on various sandy slopes boasts a full-scale version of Curiosity’s mobility system, but is otherwise stripped down so that it weighs approximately the same on Earth as Curiosity will in the reduced gravity of Mars.
Information collected on windward and downwind portions of dunes will be used by the rover team in making decisions about driving Curiosity on the red planet’s dunes near a mountain in the center of Gale Crater.
First, however, the Mars Science Laboratory spacecraft, launched Nov. 26, 2011, must put Curiosity safely onto the ground.
Remember, Safe landing on Mars is never assured, and this mission is slated to utilize innovative methods to land the heaviest vehicle in the smallest target area ever attempted on the red planet. The good news? NASA views advances in landing heavier payloads more precisely as critical steps toward eventual human missions to Mars.
Currently, Curiosity remains on track for landing the evening of Aug. 5, 2012, PDT (early on Aug. 6, Universal Time and EDT) to begin a two-year prime mission. Researchers plan to use Curiosity to study layers in Gale Crater’s central mound, Mount Sharp and investigate whether the area has ever offered an environment favorable for microbial life.