Curiosity Mars Hand Lens Imager photo produced on Sol 268, February 26, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover is now carrying out Sol 2688 tasks.

The rover is on the move, reports Abigail Fraeman, a planetary geologist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

“Over the last couple of weeks, the Curiosity science team engaged in a series of long debates about where we should go after we completed our analyses of the Hutton sample,” Fraeman notes. “Our first option was to drive downhill and rejoin the strategically planned route that skirts the base of the Greenheugh pediment. The second option was to head the other way and drive uphill onto the top of pediment capping unit.”

Curiosity Mars Hand Lens Imager photo produced on Sol 268, February 26, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Potentially passable route

Fraeman explains that Mars researchers had always planned to drive on top of the Greenheugh pediment at some point, “but the rover wouldn’t reach the access points identified from orbit for months, or possibly even years.”

While Curiosity was completing the drill campaign at Hutton, rover drivers working with surface properties scientists discovered a “potentially passable route” onto the top of the Greenheugh pediment that was accessible from our current location.

Curiosity Mast Camera Left photo taken on Sol 2686, February 26, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

“So as a team we had to consider were the science benefits worth trying to drive onto the pediment now, or we should wait until later as originally planned? In the end, we decided the science rationale to ascend now were so compelling, it was worth going for it,” Fraeman points out.

Steep slopes

The focus of a recent plan is to execute the first of several drives that will take the robot to the top. Curiosity planners don’t expect to encounter slopes much greater than 25 degrees early on, Fraeman says, but subsequent drives will require the rover to ascend slopes of 30 degrees or more.

Curiosity Mast Camera Left photo taken on Sol 2686, February 26, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

“We’ve never driven up slopes this steep with Curiosity before, and we don’t actually know if the rover will be able to make it all the way up and over,” Fraeman adds. “However, all of our analysis shows this attempt won’t put any unusual risk on the vehicle hardware, so there’s no reason we can’t try!”

Curiosity Mars Hand Lens Imager photo produced on Sol 2687, February 27, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Fraeman concludes: “Exploring Mars is always exciting, but for me, this has been a particularly fun and exciting time to be a part of the Curiosity science team. I love the feeling of exploring and venturing into the unknown. We don’t know if we’ll be able to make it onto the pediment capping unit here, but we know we’ll discover something completely new if we do reach the top.”

 

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