Before starting its mountain climb Curiosity send a self-portrait home
There's no doubt that 2012 was an incredible year for NASA especially after pulling off the landing of the Curiosity Rover on Mars where it has been moving slowly towards one of its main objective while conducting some rather important scientific exploration as it goes. If the Mars rover program so far is any indication then 2013 could prove to be equally, or even more exciting than the year we are leaving behind.
One of the reasons the Gale Crater was selected for the landing site of the Curiosity Rover was because of the proximity of Mount Sharp and the fairly easy route the rover could follow to get to it and now that all the preliminary testing of the rover has been completed it's time for Curiosity to get down to serious work.
For the rover to travel to and climb to the top of Mount Sharp, which is situated at the center of Gale Crater (the landing site of the rover), will take approximately 9 months but it won't be just a simple one-minded trip to the mountain but the journey will also include stops along the way for more drilling and sampling being done by the rover. The rover's top traveling speed is supposed to be up around the 90 meters per hour range but scientists back on earth don't expect to have the rover traveling anywhere past a third of that speed.
Several things are planned ahead of the actual start of the climb part of the rover's journey; with a software update being planned for mid-February and then scientists want to take about a month hunting for what they call "the perfect rock" to take samples from that will be tested in the rover's onboard labs.
To celebrate the beginning of its journey Curiosity took the time to snap another self-portrait but this time it included the view of Mount Sharp in the background. The image was actually created from fifty smaller shots that were taken by Curiosity's Mars Hand Lens Imager located on the end of the primary robotic arm that was panned around the body of the rover. Curiosity sent off enough images over the course of a day that the engineers at JPL were able to stitch them together for that panoramic view.