NASA's Mars Science Laboratory Project is using the SUV-sized rover called "Curiosity" to "assess ancient habitable environments and major changes in Martian environmental conditions." But it might get the chance to huck a sand dune in the name of preserving tires on the way to its next waypoint.
Well, not "huck" exactly. More like crawl over very slowly and very, very carefully.
NASA lets Curiosity take its sweet time creeping around Mars— It's driven 865 feet in 2014, and has racked up a total of 3.05 miles since landing on the Red Planet in August, 2012.
Over the past six months or so, operators have noticed excessive wear on the rover's wheels giving them cause to drive with even greater caution than ever.
A route over the three-foot dune in question is being considered because it's perceived to be easier on the equipment than the rocky terrain otherwise standing between Curiosity and its next objective: a site with "three terrain types exposed and a relatively dust-free surface" called "KMS-9."
Sheesh, it's pretty hard to make off-roading in space sound boring but these guys are giving it a damn fair effort.
"The decision hasn't been made yet, but it is prudent to go check," said Jim Erickson of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., project manager for Curiosity. "We'll take a peek over the dune into the valley immediately to the west to see whether the terrain looks as good as the analysis of orbital images implies."
Those images come from NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter via a High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera... which is the billion-dollar version of "walking the course."
Even if NASA's rover isn't sexy or fast enough to throw Martian sand rooster tails or be in a Red Bull video, it's pretty exciting to think about a remote-controlled off-roader bushwhacking on the final frontier. Here's to hoping some trickle-down tech from it comes our way soon.