NASA’s Curiosity rover, which landed on Mars two weeks ago, turned its six wheels briefly on Wednesday to satisfy engineers that its locomotion system was in full working order.
Curiosity is a sophisticated mobile science laboratory.
It has been built to drive at least 20 km across the Martian landscape to investigate whether the planet ever had the conditions necessary for life.
Wednesday’s drive saw the rover roll forward 4.5 m, turn clockwise on the spot, and then reverse up 2.5 m. It took about five minutes to complete the manoeuvre.
It is now pointing south in the general direction of Mount Sharp, the big mountain at the centre of Mars’ equatorial Gale Crater.
Scientists expect to find rocks at the base of the peak that were laid down billions of years ago in the presence of abundant water.
Curiosity – also known as the Mars Science Laboratory, MSL – will not journey to Mount Sharp immediately, however.
The mission team first wants to visit a piece of ground some 400 m to the east; a location researchers have dubbed Glenelg.
Satellite pictures have shown this place to be an intersection of three distinct types of rock terrain.
Scientists think Glenelg will be a good place to start to characterize the geology of Gale Crater.
On its way to the intersection, Curiosity will “sniff” the atmosphere and analyze the composition of its gases.
It will likely also scoop a soil sample to examine in its onboard laboratories.