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Mars rover Curiosity could take pit stop during first drive

August 24, 2012 |  9:33 am

Mars rover Curiosity has a destination for its first road trip, but NASA officials said it could take a slight detour.

The destination is called Glenelg, about 1,300 feet east-southeast of the landing site. Glenelg sits at a point where three different types of terrain meet, and it could be the first site where the rover uses its drill.

Controllers aren’t sure how long the drive may take, as they may stop to check out interesting things along the way, said deputy project scientist Joy Crisp. For example, the team plans to make a pit stop on the way if it finds soil fine enough to practice using its scooping tool.

Officials hope the trip will begin in the next few days.

NASA released raw footage of the Curiosity rover's landing on Mars. The video depicts the last couple of minutes before Curiosity reached its landing site in Gale Crater.

The craft moved about 6 meters from its initial landing spot during the test drive -- first forward about 4½ meters, then 120 degrees in place and finally back 2½ meters. As it moved forward, its boxy head turned from side to side, taking shots of its wheels in the process.

Visible in the panorama, in addition to the rover's tracks, are a 3.5-inch rock where the drive began, marks left by the rover's descent during landing, and the lower slopes of Mount Sharp.

PANORAMA: Tire tracks on Mars | PHOTOS: Mars rover mission

Click for panoramaNASA officials also announced that the touchdown spot has been officially named Bradbury Landing, in honor of the renowned science fiction writer Ray Bradbury, who died earlier this year. He would have been 92 this past  Wednesday.

Times science writer Amina Khan discusses the mission in the video above.

On Wednesday, Gov. Jerry Brown visited JPL and praised the Curiosity team and space exploration in general.

“If the idea is when you got a problem you don’t do anything, then you shut this place down, that’s stupid,” he said during his visit to the campus in La Cañada Flintridge. “You’ve got to do more than one thing. We have to invest as well, as we take care of all these other problems.

“JPL and this mission just demonstrate anew what the full potential of California is.”

“I’m very grateful, every one of you, for what you’re doing,” he added. “It’s important for California. It’s important for our country. It’s important for the world. It’s important for the future.”

-- Amina Khan, Tiffany Kelly, Samantha Schaefer


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Photo: Tracks made by Curiosity's tires during its first test drive can be seen. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech