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Curiosity Mars rover gets ready to roll (+video)

NASA's Curiosity Mars rover, which hasn't yet moved from its landing spot, is set to make its first tracks on the Red Planet on Tuesday or Wednesday.

By Mike WallSPACE.com / August 20, 2012

This image (cut out from a mosaic) shows the view from NASA's Mars rover Curiosity landing site toward the lower reaches of Mount Sharp, where the rover will likely start its ascent through hundreds of feet (meters) of layered deposits. (Image taken Aug. 8 and released Aug. 17.)

NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

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NASA's Mars rover Curiosity hasn't turned its wheels since landing on the Red Planet two weeks ago, but that's about to change.

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Curiosity's latest images from the surface of Mars include an image of a rock which will be the first target to be analysed by the rover. Sarah Charlton reports.

The Curiosity rover is set to make its first tracks on the Red Planet Tuesday or Wednesday (Aug. 21 or 22), mission team members said. The maiden drive will be something of a test, so the 1-ton robot won't be allowed to stretch its legs right off the bat.

"Basically, we want to drive the wheels more than one rev in both directions," said Jeff Biesiadecki of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., one of Curiosity's 16 drivers. "What we've got sketched out right now is about a 4-meter drive forward, and about a 90-degree turn in place, and a couple meters backwards."

The first drive will come close on the heels of Curiosity's first laser beam test fire on Mars, which occurred Sunday (Aug. 19). The $2.5 billion rover blasted a small stone to try out its ChemCam instrument, which determines the composition of Red Planet rocks by studying their vaporized bits.

Curiosity's first steps

Curiosity touched down inside Mars' huge Gale Crater on the night of Aug. 5. Since then, the rover team has been systematically checking out Curiosity and its 10 science instruments. Researchers want to make sure the six-wheeled robot is ready for its two-year surface mission, which aims to determine whether Mars could ever have supported microbial life.

Everything looks good so far, researchers have said. It's now time to test out Curiosity's driving system, a stepwise process that begins today (Aug. 20) — Curiosity's 15th full day on the Martian surface, or Sol 15 in mission lingo. [Photos: Curiosity's 2nd Week on Mars]

"On Sol 15, we're going to check out the steering actuators," Biesiadecki told SPACE.com. "We're going to run all the steering actuators one at a time — not through their entire range of motion but through both directions — and end them straight. So we should have all our wheels straight at the end of Sol 15."

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