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NASA: Mars rover Curiosity brain surgery complete (+video)

After a four-day software upgrade, NASA's Curiosity is ready to continue its 2-year search for Martian microbes. In about a week, the rover will go for its first test drive. Once it begins moving, it will be able to travel about the length of a football field daily.   

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Mount Sharp's many layers preserve a record of Mars' changing environmental conditions going back perhaps a billion years or more, researchers have said. And Mars-orbiting spacecraft have detected evidence of clays and sulfates in the mountain's foothills, suggesting that Mount Sharp's lower reaches were exposed to liquid water long ago.

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These foothills lie about 5 miles (8 km) from Curiosity's landing site as the crow flies, researchers said. The rover will have to pick its way through a dune field to get there, and it will likely make a few stops en route to study interesting rocks.

Curiosity can cover about 330 feet (100 meters) per day — about the length of a football field — so it will take the rover a while to reach its destination.

"It's going to take a good part of a year to finally make it to these sediments on Mount Sharp," said MSL deputy project scientist Ashwin Vasavada of JPL.

Itching to move

It will be another month or so until Curiosity and its instruments are fully vetted and the rover is ready to devote itself completely to science operations, Watkins said. But everything looks good so far.

"We have a fully healthy rover and payload," Vasavada said.

He and the rest of the MSL team are eager for Curiosity to really get rolling on the Martian surface.

"I think it's fair to say that the science team and our rover drivers and really everybody are kind of itching to move at this point," Vasavada said. "So the science and operations teams are working together to evaluate a few different routes that will take us eventually to Mount Sharp."

Follow SPACE.com senior writer Mike Wall on Twitter @michaeldwall or SPACE.com @Spacedotcom. We're also on Facebook and Google+.

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