Curiosity begins longest journey yet

The kids are in the back, there’s gas in the tank, and NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity has set off on its first long trip.

It’s heading for a science destination about a quarter-mile away, in a journey set to take several weeks.

“This drive really begins our journey toward the first major driving destination, Glenelg, and it’s nice to see some Martian soil on our wheels,” says mission manager Arthur Amador of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. “The drive went beautifully, just as our rover planners designed it.”

Glenelg’s been picked as a destination because three different types of terrain are found there close together. It’s been chosen as a likely place to find a first rock target for drilling and analysis.

“We are on our way, though Glenelg is still many weeks away,” says project scientist John Grotzinger of Caltech. “We plan to stop for just a day at the location we just reached, but in the next week or so we will make a longer stop.”

It’s at this point – yet to be determined – that Curiosity will test its robotic arm and the contact instruments at the end of the arm.

The rover drove eastward on Tuesday, its 22nd Martian day after landing. At about 52 feet, this third drive was longer than Curiosity’s first two combined.

From this spot, Curiosity’s Mast Camera (Mastcam) will collect a set of images looking toward its ultimate driving destination, the lower slope of nearby Mount Sharp.

A mosaic of images from the current location will be combined with the Mastcam images of the mountain taken at the spot where Curiosity touched down, Bradbury Landing. Taken about 33 feet apart, these images will give three-dimensional information about distant features – as well as possible driving routes.