NASA rover arrives at mountain on Mars

From NASA Reports
An artist's concept of NASA's Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity rover, a robot investigating the surface of Mars. Image: NASA.
An artist's concept of NASA's Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity rover, a robot investigating the surface of Mars. Image: NASA.
Like the family jalopy that limps along until it finally reaches Disney World, NASA’s Mars Curiosity rover is now at its prime destination: the red planet's Mount Sharp, a Mount Rainier-size mountain at the center of the vast Gale Crater.

    It took two years and about 5 miles of driving to get there. And while eventful, from a scientific perspective, the trip hasn't been easy.
    Curiosity’s route was modified earlier this year in response to excessive wheel wear. In late 2013, researchers realized a region littered with sharp, embedded rocks was poking holes in four of the rover’s six wheels. This damage accelerated the rate of wear and tear. In response, NASA altered the rover’s route to a milder terrain, bringing the vehicle south, toward the base of Mount Sharp.
    "The wheels issue contributed to taking the rover farther south sooner than planned, but it is not a factor in the science-driven decision to start ascending here rather than continuing to Murray Buttes first," said Jennifer Trosper, Curiosity's deputy project manager at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. "We have been driving hard for many months to reach the entry point to Mount Sharp. Now that we've made it, we'll be adjusting the operations style from a priority on driving to a priority on conducting the investigations needed at each layer of the mountain."
    Curiosity’s trek up the mountain will begin with an examination of the lower slopes. The rover is starting this process at an entry point near an outcrop called Pahrump Hills.
    Curiosity currently is positioned at the base of the mountain along a pale, distinctive geological feature called the Murray Formation. Compared to neighboring crater-floor terrain, the rock of the Murray Formation is softer and does not preserve impact scars, as well. As viewed from orbit, it is not as well-layered as other units at the base of Mount Sharp.
    NASA's Mars Science Laboratory Project continues to use Curiosity to assess ancient habitable environments and major changes in Martian environmental conditions. The destinations on Mount Sharp offer a series of geological layers that recorded different chapters in the environmental evolution of Mars.
    The Mars Exploration Rover Project is one element of NASA's ongoing preparation for a human mission to the Red Planet in the 2030s.  


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