Mars Rover Curiosity Successfully Makes Its First Test-Drive

Destination: 10 feet over yonder

Two weeks after being expertly parked in Mars’s Gale Crater by NASA’s sky crane apparatus, Mars rover Curiosity has made its first test-drive. It wasn’t a particularly long journey; it moved just 10 feet from its landing site–a half-hour trip–so to re-park itself in an area where the rover has visually confirmed there are no obstacles.

The play-by-play: Curiosity successfully tested its wheel turning capability yesterday, performing what NASA is aptly calling a “wheel wiggle.” Today, it took those skills on a real test. The rover moved 15 feet away, turned 90 degrees, and reversed a few feet. Fin.

Now that it’s parked, the rover will remain stationary for awhile. Its next trek–the first of any real distance–is currently slated for next month and will take Curiosity a quarter-mile to a location dubbed Glenelg where three kinds of terrain intersect, one of which is Martian bedrock. Mission scientists figure the bedrock is as good a place as any to start drilling for samples and analyzing Mars’ geographical history.

That trip may take up to two months. In other words, Curiosity’s heart-pounding 17,000-mile-per-hour-to-zero-mile-per-hour landing was the last high speed trick the Mars Science Lab mission will pull for a while. And it’s no wonder; if your car cost $2.5 billion, you’d be very, very careful with it too.

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