NASA’s Curiosity Rover was on route to an interesting outcrop of rocks on Mt. Sharp when the path needed to be changed because it was too difficult to traverse. The original path was too steep and the rover’s six wheels were slipping. In order to reach the desired location, a new path had to be made. This was done using the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, which has been orbiting Mars since 2006. Images used by this orbiter were used to map out an alternate path to a different, but similar ‘geological contact’ between two rock types.
On Thursday, Curiosity climbed 22 metres uphill with an incline of 21 degrees to come close of the target location but the stretch proved too hard and dangerous to reach. There was slippage in the rover in three out of four drive attempts up the hill so the route was abandoned. Curiosity Rover has an on-board system that can detect slipping by comparing wheel rotation tally with actual drive distance, which is determined by photographs taken while in movement. If the drive distance and wheel rotation tally don’t match, then the rover is slipping and it stops moving.
Chris Roumeliotis, the lead rover driver of Curiosity describes the drive up Mt. Sharp as deceptive and also described some of the problems encountered when driving the rover:
“We knew that polygonal sand ripples have caused Curiosity a lot of drive slip in the past, but there appeared to be terrain with rockier, more consolidated characteristics directly adjacent to these ripples. So we drove around the sand ripples onto what we expected to be firmer terrain that would give Curiosity better traction. Unfortunately, this terrain turned out to be unconsolidated material too, which definitely surprised us and Curiosity”
The area the Curiosity team wants to investigate contains an outcrop where two different types of rocks meet. One is the familiar light rock that Curiosity has already encountered. The other type is a darker rock that has not been investigated by curiosity yet and could lead to some interesting finds.
NASA’s Curiosity Rover has been exploring Mars since 2012 in search of evidence of habitability. Since then it has found strong evidence that water once existed on Mars as well as traces of methane gas which, by some explanations, could be evidence of microbial life. Curiosity continues to make interesting discovering that increase our understanding of Mars.