NASA’s Mars Curiosity Rover is gearing up for a major road trip that will take several months, but will end with the rover arriving at Mount Sharp.
The journey was supposed to begin in less than two days, but it was delayed after Curiosity lingered longer than scheduled at a pit stop.
Yahoo! News reports that the rover will set off on its journey toward Mount Sharp in mid-February after it tests out its drilling equipment on the Red Planet for the first time.
During a recent interview, mission chief scientist John Grotzinger stated:
“We’ll probably be ready to hit the pedal to the metal and give the keys back to the rover drivers.”
NASA and other scientists hold high expectations for the rover’s upcoming trip — especially because it is the reason that the mission, which costs $2.5 billion, targeted the Gale Crater near Mars’ equator.
Mount Sharp, jutting from the center of the crater, is three miles high and includes intriguing rock layers. Scientists are hoping that Curiosity will be able to discover if the landing site was ever able to support microbes. They already know that water once flowed in the crater after the rover discovered an ancient stream bed.
The planet is also no stranger to the sun. The only missing building block for supporting life are carbon-based molecules. If they are preserved somewhere on Mars, scientists believe that Gale Crater is the best spot to find them — especially searching the rocks of Mount Sharp, according to NBC News.
The journey for NASA’s Curiosity rover will take six months — if the rover drives non stop. But scientists still want to allow the rover to rest and take small detours to rocky outcrops along the way, it will take about nine months for the SUV-sized machine to reach its destination.
But before it can embark on the road trip, Curiosity still has to search for the perfect rock to drill into. The process of picking the rock and drilling into it to find its chemical makeup will likely last more than a month.
The rover’s low-key maneuvers since arriving on Mars are a massive contrast to the flair of its drama-filled touchdown that captured the attention of the world in August. The rover, unlike its predecessors, was too heavy to land using the previous parachute and airbags system.
Therefore, engineers invented a new way that lowered the rover to the surface of Mars using cables. The daring landing was so successful that NASA will use it for the next rover, whose mission is set to begin in 2020.