Mars rover Curiosity is currently on a months-long journey to a Martian mountain named Mount Sharp. The rover has shifted into a distance driving mode and is now roving further than ever along its planned five-mile journey.
This week, NASA revealed that Curiosity has broken its own one-day driving record. On July 21 the rover completed a 109.7 yard (100.3 meter) drive - more than double the distance of any drive it had previously completed.
The record drive was planned by rover team members at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), but future jaunts could soon allow Curiosity to use its "autonav" ability to navigate some drives on its own. The software should allow the rover to chart a safe path beyond what rover team members are able to see in the previous day's photos.
"What enabled us to drive so far on Sol 340 was starting at a high point and also having Mastcam images giving us the size of rocks so we could be sure they were not hazards," said Paolo Bellutta, a rover planner at JPL. "We could see for quite a distance, but there was an area straight ahead that was not clearly visible, so we had to find a path around that area."
Curiosity's one-day driving record before July 21 was 54 yards (49 meters), which was completed back on September 26, 2012, just weeks after the rover landed on Mars. At the outset of its current journey, the rover hit the milestone of having driven over 1 kilometer (0.62 miles) total on the Martian surface. The rover has now driven 0.81 miles (1.23 kilometers) during its time on the red planet.
(Image courtesy NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS)