Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 26 July 2014

Mars rover makes first test drive

The Curiosity rover's wheel tracks can be seen on the surface of Mars (AP/Nasa)

The Nasa rover Curiosity has made its first test drive on the ancient soil of Mars.

"Wheel tracks on Mars," jet propulsion laboratory engineer Allen Chen tweeted along with an image sent from one of the rover's cameras.

"The EDL (Entry, Descent and Landing) team is finally done. Congrats to the mobility and surface teams!"

Details of the short drive were to be discussed at a press conference later.

The rover was expected to have moved forward about 10ft, turned right, then backed up and parked slightly to the left of its old spot.

The test drive is part of a health check-up the rover has been undergoing since arriving on August 5. Eventually, it could roam hundreds of feet a day over the ancient crater where it landed.

Meanwhile, researchers discovered a damaged wind sensor while checking out instruments that Curiosity will use to check the Martian weather and soil.

The cause of the damage was not known, but one possibility is that pebbles thrown up by Curiosity's descent fell on to the sensor's delicate, exposed circuit boards and broke some wires, said Ashwin Vasavada, deputy project scientist for Curiosity.

A second sensor is operating and should do the job, but Mr Vasavada said scientists may "have to work a little harder" to determine wind speed and direction, which are important factors that can determine when the rover is allowed to move. "But we think we can work around that," he added.

Scientists also continued to test and calibrate Curiosity's 7ft-long arm and its extensive tool kit - which includes a drill, a scoop, a spectrometer and a camera - in preparation for collecting its first soil samples and attempting to learn whether the Martian environment was favourable for microbial life.

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