NASA this week announced that Mars rover Curiosity this weekend drove itself over the surface of Mars for two days. The rover used its autonomous driving mode to scope out driving routes on its own, traveling 262 feet closer to its destination. The feat represents the first time the rover has completed a two-day journey on its own.
Curiosity is approaching an area researchers have named "Cooperstown," where it is expected to examine surface conditions with its arm instruments. The rover has not used its arm instruments to examine the Martian landscape since late September, when it examined sandstone pebbles at the "Darwin" site. Darwin was the first of five planned waypoints along the rover's months-long journey to its current destination at the base of a mountain named Mount Sharp.
Mars rover team members are hoping to use Curiosity's autonomous driving capabilities over two-day periods more often in the coming months. This is expected to speed up the rover's journey toward Mount Sharp, especially during weekends and holidays.
The Cooperstown site Curiosity is approaching is, according to NASA, around one-third of the way to Mount Sharp. The rover will be examining the site to compare its layered rock formations to what the rover has found earlier in its mission at Yellowknife Bay, as well as what it will find once it arrives at Mount Sharp.
"What interests us about this site is an intriguing outcrop of layered material visible in the orbital images," said Kevin Lewis, a participating scientist for the mission at Princeton University. "We want to see how the local layered outcrop at Cooperstown may help us relate the geology of Yellowknife Bay to the geology of Mount Sharp."
(Image courtesy NASA/JPL-Caltech)