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Mock Mars Rover Takes Desert Test Drive

•, Staff
 Last week, researchers took a test version of NASA's Curiosity rover out to Dumont Dunes in California's Mojave Desert, near Death Valley. The goal was to learn more about how to operate Curiosity after it touches down at Mars' Gale Crater on the night of Aug. 5, researchers said.

The test rover is called "Scarecrow" because it doesn't have an onboard computer "brain" like Curiosity does — an apparent reference to the movie "The Wizard of Oz," in which Dorothy's friend Scarecrow asks the all-powerful Wizard for a brain.

The Scarecrow rover does have a full-scale version of Curiosity's mobility system, NASA officials said. But aside from that, the rover is stripped down so that it weighs roughly 750 pounds (340 kilograms) — about as much as Curiosity will weigh in the lesser gravity of Mars. (Here on Earth, Curiosity tips the scales at nearly 2,000 pounds (907 kg).
For the desert test drive, scientists sent Scarecrow crawling across the dunes to better prepare for Curiosity's journey, which will likely feature some dune driving in and around Gale Crater.

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