[meteorite-list] Wheel Concerns Prompt New Route for Mars Rover Curiosity

From: Ron Baalke <baalke_at_meteoritecentral.com>
Date: Tue, 18 Feb 2014 12:44:28 -0800 (PST)
Message-ID: <201402182044.s1IKiS6x029704_at_zagami.jpl.nasa.gov>


Wheel concerns prompt new route for Mars rover
February 18, 2014

Planners in charge of plotting the course of NASA's Curiosity rover, which
is trekking toward a massive mountain on the red planet, have selected
a route with fewer rock hazards in lieu of alternate paths that could
exacerbate damage to the robot's wheels.

The rover traversed a dune in early February to take a southwestward route
toward the rover's next science target, a junction of different rock types
where scientists are considering using the rover's drill.

The 3-foot-tall dune spanned two scarps along a ridge marking the eastern
edge of a valley.

The path avoids sharp rocks that could further damage the rover's wheels,
but dunes present their own dangers. NASA's earlier Mars rovers, Spirit
and Opportunity, were trapped in sand dunes.

Opportunity was able to break free a dune after more than a month of immobility
in 2005, but Spirit was mired in a sand trap tilted away from the sun
during a Martian winter, dooming the rover when it was unable to generate
enough power to stay alive.

Engineers noticed the damage on Curiosity's six wheels last year. They
expected the rover to accumulate dings at it scraped over rocks, but the
wear and tear observed on the rover's wheels was greater than they anticipated
less than a year-and-a-half since landing.

Officials have occasionally inspected Curiosity's damage with the rover's
robotic arm camera, revealing several holes in the aluminum wheels.

This image taken by the Curiosity's rover's robotic arm camera shows scuffs
and holes in one of its six aluminum wheels. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS
The discovery prompted managers at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California
to seek more favorable ground for the next phase of Curiosity's drive
toward Mount Sharp, a three-mile-high peak inside Gale crater, the rover's
landing site.

Curiosity's odometer recently crossed 3 miles, with several miles still
to go before reaching Mount Sharp. Scientists expect the rover to arrive
at its base some time this summer.

Observations from sensors mounted on orbiters indicate Mount Sharp harbors
clay minerals likely deposited by water some time in Mars' ancient past.
The clays line the mountain's foothills inside layered terrain already
spotted from a distance by Curiosity's panoramic camera.

The rover's complex instrumentation has already explored an ancient riverbed,
confirming the location could have once supported microbial life when
Mars was warmer and wetter.
Received on Tue 18 Feb 2014 03:44:28 PM PST

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