PASADENA - Team members of NASA's Mars Science Laboratory mission took a test rover to Dumont Dunes in California's Mojave Desert this week to improve knowledge of the best way to operate a similar rover, Curiosity, currently flying to Mars for an August landing.
The test rover that they put through paces on various sandy slopes has a full-scale version of Curiosity's mobility system, but it is otherwise stripped down so that it weighs about the same on Earth as Curiosity will weigh in the lesser gravity of Mars.
Information collected in these tests on windward and downwind portions of dunes will be used by the rover team in making decisions about driving Curiosity on dunes near a mountain in the center of Gale Crater.
First, however, the Mars Science Laboratory spacecraft, launched Nov. 26, 2011, must put Curiosity safely onto the ground. Safe landing on Mars is never assured, and this mission will use innovative methods to land the heaviest vehicle in the smallest target area ever attempted on Mars. Advances in landing heavier payloads more precisely are steps toward eventual human missions to Mars.
Mars Science Laboratory mission team members ran mobility tests on California sand dunes in early May 2012 in preparation for operating the Curiosity rover, currently en route to Mars, after its landing in Mars' Gale Crater. This test rover, called Scarecrow because it doesn't have an onboard computer "brain" like Curiosity, has a full-scale version of Curiosity's mobility system, but it is otherwise stripped down so that it weighs about the same on Earth as Curiosity will weigh in the lesser gravity of Mars. Each wheel has a diameter of 20 inches (50 centimeters).
The tests for driving on sand dunes were conducted on the Dumont Dunes, near Death Valley in California. Information collected about Scarecrow's performance in driving up various slopes on windward and downwind portions of dunes will be used by the rover team in decisions about driving on dunes near Mount Sharp inside Gale Crater.
NASA's Mars Science Laboratory mission launched on Nov. 26, 2011, and will deliver the rover Curiosity to Gale Crater on Mars on Aug. 6, 2012, Universal Time and EDT (night of Aug. 5, PDT). With 10 science instruments, Curiosity will investigate whether the area has ever offered environmental conditions favorable for microbial life. NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, Calif., manages the Mars Science Laboratory mission for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, Washington, and built Curiosity.
Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech
Curiosity is on track for landing the evening of Aug. 5, 2012, PDT (early on Aug. 6, Universal Time and EDT) to begin a two-year prime mission. Researchers plan to use Curiosity to study layers in Gale Crater's central mound, Mount Sharp. The mission will investigate whether the area has ever offered an environment favorable for microbial life.
NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, manages the mission for the NASA Science Mission Directorate, Washington.