Mars rover tracks spell out Morse code message (+video)
During its first test drive on Mars, NASA's Curiosity rover left a Morse code imprint on the Red Planet's surface, a tribute to the one-ton robot's maker.
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The mission's science team also powered up Curiosity's rock-zapping laser for a bit of target practice, focusing the light beam at a fist-size rock named "Coronation."Skip to next paragraph
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Curiosity's Chemistry and Camera instrument (ChemCam) uses laser-induced breakdown spectroscopy to determine the composition of its rock and soil targets.
The science team also powered up and began collecting data with the rover's onboard weather station, the Rover Environmental Monitoring Station (REMS), which revealed the first problem of Curiosity's mission.
The wind sensors on one of the instrument's two booms has been damaged, perhaps due to debris being kicked up off the surface during the rover's retrorocket descent. The wind sensors on the other boom, which extends out from the rover's camera mast, are working as expected.
"We still retain nearly the full capability, just with a little bit of ambiguity in terms of wind direction," said Curiosity deputy project scientist Ashwin Vasavada, also of JPL. [Video: Curiosity Wiggles Wheels and Stretches Arm]
Next stop: Glenelg
Curiosity's ultimate destination will be the base of Mount Sharp, a 3.4-mile-high (5.5-kilometer) mountain that rises from Gale Crater's center. But before it sets off to explore the foothills, Curiosity's first long drive will be to an area closer to its landing site dubbed "Glenelg."
Glenelg, which is located about 1,300 feet (400 m) from Curiosity's landing site, denotes an area where three kinds of Martian terrain intersect: a kind of bedrock that may be suitable for eventual drilling; a terrain showing the marks of many small craters that could represent an older or harder surface; and a third kind of formation that may be the same rock texture as the bedrock that was exposed when the rover's descent stage blew away dust from the surface.
Curiosity's departure for Glenelg could come within a week if the checkouts continue to go well, rover scientists said. Once underway, that drive could take up to two months to complete, depending on how often Curiosity stops along the way.
The rover's drivers eventually want to cover about 330 feet (100 m), or roughly the length of a football field, in a Martian day, but it's going to take them some time to ramp up to that rate.
"This first set of drives... we will probably do that in pretty small chunks, just to evaluate what's going on," Watkins said. "My guess is that those are going to go in 10- to 20-meter chunks but eventually we'll get up to over a hundred meters a day."
- 1st Photos of Mars by Curiosity Rover (Gallery)
- Mars Rover Curiosity: Mars Science Lab Coverage
- Huge Mars Robot Armed With Laser, Cameras, Curiosity (Infographic)
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