World Bulletin / News Desk
The Mars rover Curiosity was due to wrap up an exhaustive, weeks-long instrument check on Thursday, clearing the way for its first lengthy drive to determine whether the Red Planet has ever been hospitable to life, NASA officials said.
The six-wheeled, nuclear-powered rover landed five weeks ago inside a giant impact basin called Gale Crater, near the Martian equator, to conduct NASA's first astrobiology mission since the 1970s-era Viking probes.
For its final equipment check, Curiosity will maneuver its robot arm so its close-up camera touches the tray where processed rock and soil samples will be analyzed.
The rover, equipped with an array of the most elaborate laboratory instruments ever sent to a distant world, also has a bit of sightseeing on its agenda. Scientists want to obtain video footage of the Martian moon Phobos passing by the sun.
Starting Friday evening, the plan is to "drive, drive, drive" until scientists find a suitable rock for the rover's first robotic "hands-on" analysis, mission manager Jennifer Trosper told reporters during a conference call on Wednesday.
It will stop when scientists find suitable soil to scoop up and run through Curiosity's onboard chemistry lab.
All the while, the rover will be heading toward a site scientists have labeled "Glenelg," where three different types of rock intersect. Glenelg, which lies about 1,312 feet (400 meters) away from Curiosity's current position, was named by mission geologists after a rock formation in northern Canada.
The overall purpose of the $2.5 billion Mars Science Lab mission is to search for places where microbial organisms could have evolved and been preserved. In addition to ferreting out the chemical and geologic footprints of water, Curiosity will hunt for organic compounds and other ingredients believed to be necessary for life.
Curiosity, which is designed to last two years, will venture about 4.3 miles (7 km) from its landing site to climb a 3-mile-high mound of layered rock rising from the floor of Gale Crater. Dubbed Mount Sharp, it is believed to be the remains of sediment that once filled the 96-mile wide (154-meter) basin.
The rover has racked up 358 feet (109 meters) on its odometer during test drives. Before setting out for Mount Sharp, scientists expect to drive Curiosity about 131 feet (40 meters) a day during its planned trek to Glenelg, with several stops for science observations.
Israeli military concerned game could lead to locations and images of military bases being leaked
AG600 developed for use in emergency operations has max cruising speed of 500 km per hour, max flight range of 4,500 km
Vast quantities of rare gas hint at Earth’s past, could power planet’s future
Global temperatures at record highs; Arctic sea ice levels at record lows
23-year-old researcher to create computer models of brain structures in world's largest particle physics laboratory
New mobile game already used by 5 percent of Android users in US
The $180m radio telescope with size of 30 football fields is expected to be operational by September, state media says.
The 41st Committee on Space Research (COSPAR) Scientific Assembly will take place between July 30 and August 7 at the Istanbul Congress Center
India launches largest successful satellite mission as it continues focus on space reseach
Court-ordered payout comes on same day company pulls fake refugee rescue app
Driverless minibus called Olli, capable of carrying up to 12 people, released by IBM and Local Motors
Popular social media network Twitter has broken, with the network's website and mobile apps inaccessible for users worldwide
In April, Germany officially announced a new incentive and investment program to accelerate the adoption of electric cars in the country.
Findings based on laser technology challenge previous theories on urban, water systems around temple complexes
With clean energy, ‘you can reconcile ecology and economy’, says Solar Impulse navigator