Sunday, May 13, 2012

Curiosity Driving School in the Mojave

The above image shows the stripped-down rover used for test-driving in the Mojave Desert. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

This passed week, team members of NASA's Mars Science Laboratory mission took a test rover to Dumont Dunes in California's Mojave Desert. No, no. It wasn't for joyriding. Well, it wasn't only for joyriding. They did it on order to improve their knowledge of the best way to operate the actual Curiosity rover, which is en route to Mars and scheduled for an August landing.

The test rover had a full-scale version of Curiosity's mobility system, but it was otherwise stripped down so that it weighed about the same on Earth as Curiosity will weigh in the lesser gravity of Mars.

What the team members learned in their tests on windward and downwind portions of the dunes will be used in making decisions about driving Curiosity on the dunes near a mountain in the center of Gale Crater. Of course, the mission team must first put the Curiosity rover safely on Mars. The landing methods are new and innovative, but much innovation is needed on order to progress toward eventual human missions to the Red Planet.

And now, the mission particulars...

Launched November 26, 2011, NASA's Mars Science Laboratory spacecraft and Curiosity rover are on track for landing the evening of August 5, 2012, PDT (early on August 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. The mission will investigate whether the area has ever offered an environment favorable for microbial life.

NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, manages the mission for the NASA Science Mission Directorate, Washington.

More information about Curiosity is online at and .  You can follow the mission on Facebook at:  and on Twitter at: .


No comments: