Two weeks after being expertly parked in Mars’s Gale Crater by NASA’s sky crane apparatus, Mars rover Curiosity has made its first test-drive. It wasn't a particularly long journey; it moved just 10 feet from its landing site--a half-hour trip--so to re-park itself in an area where the rover has visually confirmed there are no obstacles.
The play-by-play: Curiosity successfully tested its wheel turning capability yesterday, performing what NASA is aptly calling a “wheel wiggle.” Today, it took those skills on a real test. The rover moved 15 feet away, turned 90 degrees, and reversed a few feet. Fin.
Now that it's parked, the rover will remain stationary for awhile. Its next trek--the first of any real distance--is currently slated for next month and will take Curiosity a quarter-mile to a location dubbed Glenelg where three kinds of terrain intersect, one of which is Martian bedrock. Mission scientists figure the bedrock is as good a place as any to start drilling for samples and analyzing Mars’ geographical history.
That trip may take up to two months. In other words, Curiosity’s heart-pounding 17,000-mile-per-hour-to-zero-mile-per-hour landing was the last high speed trick the Mars Science Lab mission will pull for a while. And it’s no wonder; if your car cost $2.5 billion, you’d be very, very careful with it too.