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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.

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If all goes well, the first drive should occur on Sol 16 (which begins Tuesday afternoon), Biesiadecki added. Curiosity will then pause to commemorate her first tentative steps on Mars.

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"At the end of that maneuver, we'll be taking images of our tracks," Biesiadecki said. "We'll see the very beginning of our tracks, which I think is going to be kind of a cool picture."

The photography isn't just for historical or gee-whiz purposes, though. The team wants to see how much Curiosity sinks into the ground when it's on the move, Biesiadecki said.

Eager to get on the road

Curiosity's ultimate destination is the base of Mount Sharp, the 3.4-mile-high (5.5 kilometers) mountain rising from Gale Crater's center. Mars-orbiting spacecraft have spotted signs of clays and sulfates in Mount Sharp's lower reaches, suggesting the area was exposed to liquid water long ago.

But the rover's first long drive will take it in a slightly different direction, to a spot about 1,300 feet (400 meters) east of Curiosity's landing site. Scientists are eager to reach this locale — which they've dubbed Glenelg — because it harbors three distinct types of terrain for Curiosity to study, all in one place.

Curiosity could begin the trek toward Glenelg a week or so after the steering and wheel checkouts if everything continues to go well, Biesiadecki said. He and the other rover drivers — and the entire mission team, most likely — are very much looking forward to that moment.

"For all rover planners, I think I can safely say we're itching to go, and Curiosity's ready to roll," Biesiadecki said.

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

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