NASAs Curiosity rover has just begun a long journey that will take it across the Martian landscape towards distant mountains.
The Curiosity rover is going to Mount Sharp, a several mile long trip across the martian surface. “[Mount Sharp] exposes many layers where scientists anticipate finding evidence about how the ancient Martian environment changed and evolved” said NASA officials in a mission update they published earlier today.
The Curiosity’s mission, which will run for a total of two years, is to determine if microbial life could ever have existed on the Red Planet. Incredibly, it already accomplished that goal in March, when the Curiosity left its landing site in the 154km wide Gale crater, and arrived at a location called Yelloknife Bay. There, it determined that the spot was habitable several billion years ago.
If I worked at NASA, Curiosity would play Ride of the Valkyries every time it crested a hill
After confirming the discovery, the Curiosity has finally left for Mount Sharp; a journey which began with two drives completed a few days ago. This is the first time the rover left the vicinity of the landing site since it touched down on August 5th last year. The first drive, on July 4th, took it 18 meters, while the next drive on July 7th was 40 meters. This may not seem like a lot, but keep in mind that there’s no mechanics on Mars to help the rover if something happens to it, so NASA wants to take it slow and steady. Indeed, Curiosity is also pretty slow, traveling at a crawling 0.14 km/h.
Luckily, NASA isn’t in a rush to get to Mount Sharp; there’s plenty to see along the way: “We are on a mission of exploration,” said Jim Erickson, Curiosity project manager, “If we come across scientifically interesting areas, we are going to stop and examine them before continuing the journey.”