Martian mountain, here Curiosity comes.
The NASA rover has officially kicked off its long-delayed road trip to Mount Sharp, a trek that involves rolling over rocky landscapes. Since July 4, the six-wheel rover has driven 190 feet to the southwest, leaving behind the spot where it spent the past seven months performing science experiments. From this point on, the team is in a "drive, drive, drive mentality," mission deputy scientist Ashwin Vasavada said Monday.
The journey, expected to last nine months to a year, will take Curiosity through unfamiliar terrain. With the help of images taken from space, mission managers plotted a path that was mostly straight with not a lot of boulders, steep slopes and other potential obstacles. The trickiest part will come when the rover will have to cross a bank of sand dunes to reach the base of the mountain.
Curiosity landed in Gale Crater near the Martian equator to great fanfare last August. Despite some experiments taking longer than expected, the rover has already fulfilled a key requirement of the mission by finding evidence of a habitable environment where microbes could survive.
Scientists have said the rover will linger at a spot as long as the discoveries keep coming. But with the landing anniversary nearing, there's pressure to move on to explore the alluring rock layers at the foot of the mountain.