Mars rover Curiosity makes first test drive

"Wheel tracks on Mars," Jet Propulsion Laboratory engineer Allen Chen tweeted along with an image sent from one of the rover

In this photo released by NASA's JPL, this is one of the first images taken by NASA's Curiosity rover, which landed on Mars the evening of Aug. 5 PDT ). It was taken with a "fisheye" wide-angle lens on the left "eye" of a stereo pair of Hazard-Avoidance cameras on the left-rear side of the rover. The image is one-half of full resolution. The clear dust cover that protected the camera during landing has been sprung open. Part of the spring that released the dust cover can be seen at the bottom right, near the rover's wheel. On the top left, part of the rover's power supply is visible. Some dust appears on the lens even with the dust cover off. The cameras are looking directly into the sun, so the top of the image is saturated. The lines across the top are an artifact called "blooming" that occurs in the camera's detector because of the saturation. As planned, the rover's early engineering images are lower resolution. Larger color images from other cameras are expected later in the week when the rover's mast, carrying high-resolution cameras, is deployed. (AP Photo/NASA/JPL-Caltech)

PASADENA, Calif. (AP) — The NASA rover Curiosity made its first test drive Wednesday on ancient soil of Mars.

"Wheel tracks on Mars," Jet Propulsion Laboratory engineer Allen Chen tweeted along with an image sent from one of the rover's cameras. "The EDL (Entry, Descent and Landing) team is finally done. Congrats to the mobility and surface teams!"

Details of the short drive were to be discussed at a late-morning press conference.

The rover was expected to have moved forward about 10 feet (3 meters), turn right, then back up and park slightly to the left of its old spot.

The test drive is part of a health checkup the rover has been undergoing since arriving on Aug. 5. Eventually, the rover could roam hundreds of feet a day over the ancient crater where it landed.

Meanwhile, researchers discovered a damaged wind sensor while checking out instruments that Curiosity will use to check the Martian weather and soil.

The cause of the damage wasn't known, but one possibility is that pebbles thrown up by Curiosity's descent fell onto the sensor's delicate, exposed circuit boards and broke some wires, said Ashwin Vasavada, deputy project scientist for Curiosity.

A second sensor is operating and should do the job, but Vasavada said scientists may "have to work a little harder" to determine wind speed and direction, which are important factors that can determine when the rover is allowed to move.

"But we think we can work around that," he added.

Scientists also continued to test and calibrate Curiosity's 7-foot (2.1-meter)-long arm and its extensive tool kit — which includes a drill, a scoop, a spectrometer and a camera — in preparation for collecting its first soil samples and attempting to learn whether the Martian environment was favorable for microbial life.

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AP writer Robert Jablon in Los Angeles contributed to this report.
Associated Press
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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