Mars rover update: Curiosity in prime condition as it heads for Mount Sharp

It’s been a couple of weeks since our last update on the Curiosity rover. Since then, the Martian resident has been busy preparing itself to find proof of organic matter on the red planet. Here’s another wrap-up of Curiosity’s recent exploits.

Curiosity suffers from narcissism, snaps multiple pictures of itself

For the plebeians that might not fully understand the complex scientific implications of the space expedition, it appears that there will always be pretty pictures to look at. Curiosity has been testing its cameras, according to CBS, along with its other operational parts, ever since it landed to ensure it was capable of accomplishing everything NASA hoped it would.

Curiosity took a self-portrait of its wheel. Mount Sharp is in the background at right. [Credit: NASA]

While testing the camera at the tip of its arm, the rover has given us high definition photos of its array of parts along with close-up looks at Martian soil. Be sure to look closely for a peek at Mount Sharp as well, one of its major destinations in the coming weeks and months. Check out all the pictures at Space.com.

Full working condition, full speed ahead!

One of NASA’s concerns last month was a mysteriously damaged wind sensor. Fortunately, this turned out to be a fairly minor issue that NASA will be able to work around, and it shouldn't affect Curiosity's mission.

Curiosity's MAHLI camera. [Credit: NASA]

LiveScience delivers more good news: The rover has passed “a rigorous month-long health checkup with flying colors” on Wednesday. For the past week, Curiosity's handlers have been especially focused on testing the rover's robotic arm, along with the various tools attached to it. One of the highlighted tools is the Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI), which “will acquire close-up images of rocks and surface material.”

The team expected the checkup to take around 25 Martian days (also known as "sols"), and Wednesday was sol 26. That means that by Friday evening, after Curiosity’s final arm and camera tests, “the plan is to drive, drive, drive,” until the rover reaches its first stop, according to NASA’s Curiosity mission manager, Jennifer Trosper.

This rover is reaching for the prize

The most important thing to keep in mind is that the rover is not on Mars just to take glamour shots—it is on a mission of scientific discovery. As it begins its first major trek, it head toward Glenelg, a relatively close landmark at around 1300 feet from the rover’s current location.

Glenelg is not only in the direction of Mount Sharp, it also features three different types of rock, as National Geographic reports. This means that Curiosity will finally be able to test its drill, and then analyze the rocks with the MAHLI and Alpha Particle X-Ray Spectrometer (AXPS).

At this point in time, those behind the project only feel comfortable allowing the rover to travel around 131 feet in one sol, so providing that speed stays unchanged, and the journey goes accordingly, it will be around 10 days before we begin to see the fruits of the robot’s labor. As an even more daunting task, the foothills of Mount Sharp are about 6 miles away from the rover. Here’s hoping Curiosity will be traveling at its expected daily distance by then, which is around 330 feet per sol.

So that’s all for now! Be sure to check back soon for another convenient round-up of the latest happenings of everyone’s favorite Mars rover! (Sorry, Spirit and Opportunity.)

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