After playing in the giant sandbox that is Mars for more than a month, the Curiosity rover is on the move again, searching for a rock to drill into, scientists said.
The six-wheel rover has been parked for more than a month at a sand dune where it has been busy scooping up soil, sniffing the atmosphere and measuring radiation levels on the surface. Its next task is to zero in on a rock, and that requires driving to a new location.
“It’s the bedrock which really gives you the story of ancient Mars,” said scientist Ashwin Vasavada of the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, which manages the $2.5 billion mission.
The car-size rover touched down in Gale Crater, an ancient depression near the Martian equator, in August, starting a two-year mission to try to figure out if the site could ever have supported microbes. Armed with some very high-tech equipment, Curiosity is the most sophisticated spacecraft to ever land on the Red Planet.
Curiosity’s ultimate destination is a three-mile-high mountain that’s rich in mineral deposits. Scientists had hoped to drive to the base before the end of the year, but that doesn’t look likely after the long stay at its current spot.