NASA today revealed that Curiosity is currently on its way to drill another rock sample. The rover is currently stopped at an area named Dingo Gap so that researchers can determine an optimal route over a small Martian sand dune. The agency also revealed that the rover has driven 3.04 miles since landing on Mars.
The Curiosity team is now attempting to find a path that reduces risk to the rover's wheels from sharp rocks. After having Curiosity take pictures of its own wheels late last year, researchers found that damage to the rover's wheels has accelerated in recent months. The decision over whether or not to cross the 3 feet-high dune is now being debated with the risk to Curiosity's wheels in mind.
"The decision hasn't been made yet, but it is prudent to go check," said Jim Erickson, project manager for Curiosity at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL). "We'll take a peek over the dune into the valley immediately to the west to see whether the terrain looks as good as the analysis of orbital images implies."
Curiosity is still on a months-long journey to the base of a Martian mountain named Mount Sharp. There researcher hope to study multiple exposed layers of rock to help determine what Mars may have been like in the past. In the meantime, once over or around the dune Curiosity will attempt to drill a rock at a site named KMS-9.
"This area is appealing because we can see terrain units unlike any that Curiosity has visited so far," said Katie Stack, a Curiosity science team collaborator at the California Institute of Technology. "One unit has striations all oriented in a similar direction. Another is smooth, without striations. We don't know yet what they are. The big draw is exploration and seeing new things."
Image via NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS