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NASA eager to take Mars rover Curiosity for a drive

August 16, 2012 |  4:01 am

The second phase of the Mars rover Curiosity's mission is set to begin in the coming days.

The rover is expected to take its first drive, probably at the beginning of next week, NASA scientists and engineers say.

Times science writer Monte Morin will discuss how the rover will roam around the Red Planet during a Google+ Hangout on Thursday at 1 p.m. PDT. Readers can ask questions in the comments below or on Twitter using the hashtag #asklatimes.

Since its dramatic touchdown on Mars on Aug. 5, Curiosity has been doing an extended "stretch" of sorts -- unfolding its limbs, testing its cameras and sending reassuring notes back to Earth.

In the coming days, engineers at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in La Cañada-Flintridge will test the rover's steering actuators. Then Curiosity is to take its first few "steps" -- driving perhaps a few feet before turning around and surveying the spot where it landed.

"We start out crawling before we walk," said mission manager Michael Watkins.

But the team is already itching to get the rover on the road toward its target, Mt. Sharp, a 3-mile-high mound that sits in the middle of Gale Crater.

"We're trying to just keep our eyes on the prize, finish these checkouts and then get going," said deputy project scientist Ashwin Vasavada.

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-- Amina Khan

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