NASA this week revealed that Mars rover Curiosity has successfully crossed over a Martian sand dune and is now continuing on its way. The rover drove a total of 41.1 meters on Sunday, February 9. This puts Curiosity's total distance traveled on Mars just shy of the 5 kilometer milestone at 4.97 kilometers.
Curiosity had crossed over a small, 1 meter high sand dune on February 6. The event was significant for the rover because it puts the vehicle on a flat surface relatively free of sharp rocks for its journey to a site called KMS-9. Once there the rover will drill into selected rocks to obtain powder samples.
The Mars Science Laboratory team at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) took a long pause at the end of January to research the area past the dune. Satellite images had shown the area to be flat and clear, but the team took the time to image the landscape with the rover to be safe.
The team is being extra-careful of the surfaces that Curiosity traverses after an inspection of the rover's wheels in December found that damage to the wheels has accelerated in recent months. Sharp rocks are being avoided, if possible, since they could increase the damage to the wheels.
Curiosity is currently on a months-long journey to the base of a Martian mountain named Mount Sharp. Along the way the rover is stopping at checkpoints and interesting scientific targets, taking samples that can be compared to those first gathered near the rover's landing site.
Image via NASA/JPL-Caltech