Introducing the Gizmag Store

Curiosity picks up the pace, with its first two-day autonomous drive

By

November 2, 2013

View of 'Cooperstown' taken by Curiosity's navigational camera (Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

View of 'Cooperstown' taken by Curiosity's navigational camera (Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

After over a year on Mars, NASA's Curiosity rover has pretty much run through its list of firsts. As it continues its “long trek” to Mount Sharp, however, it’s still showing a few surprises. This week, NASA announced that Curiosity picked up the pace of its travels by completing its first two-day autonomous drive, in which the unmanned explorer did one leg of an autonomous drive on Sunday, then completed it on Monday.

Previously, Curiosity’s autonomous drives were only executed after a finishing a drive planned by mission control on Earth using images supplied by Curiosity. When the nuclear-powered rover goes into autonomous mode, it uses stereo images from its navigation cameras to plot a safe path with its onboard computer.

The drive completed Monday is the first where the rover ended an autonomous drive on one day, then continued it the next day by itself. According to NASA, on Sunday, Curiosity drove about 180 ft (55 m) along a path planned by mission control, then switched to autonomous mode and traveled 125 ft (38 m) with the rover selecting waypoints and the safest path. It then stored navigation variables in its non-volatile memory, because the volatile memory is erased at night as the rover “sleeps.”

On Monday, Curiosity reloaded the variables and drove another 105 ft (32 m). In all, it covered about 410 ft (125 m). This brought it within about 262 ft (about 80 m) from "Cooperstown,” a rocky outcrop where there are targets for examination. These will be the first on which Curiosity has used its arm-mounted instruments since September 22.

"What interests us about this site is an intriguing outcrop of layered material visible in the orbital images," says Kevin Lewis of Princeton University. "We want to see how the local layered outcrop at Cooperstown may help us relate the geology of Yellowknife Bay [on Mars] to the geology of Mount Sharp."

The plan is to make this only a brief stop, so Curiosity can carry out its long trek to Mount Sharp more quickly. NASA says that another advantage of the new system is that it allows mission control to plan activities for several days, which can be implemented on Fridays and before holidays.

Source: NASA

About the Author
David Szondy David Szondy is a freelance writer based in Monroe, Washington. An award-winning playwright, he has contributed to Charged and iQ magazine and is the author of the website Tales of Future Past.   All articles by David Szondy
3 Comments

What a waste of millions of dollars! Bring all the space exploration monies back to earth where it is needed and will create a real return for investments on earth. Infrastructure rebuilding is one example!

denrilio
3rd November, 2013 @ 04:52 am PST

@denrilio Please be sure to check the amount of funding NASA is granted each year as a percent of GDP compared to other agencies. I'm sure once you are made aware of the facts, you will happily redact that statement.

Daniel Moreno
3rd November, 2013 @ 03:12 pm PST

@denrilio: Wasted cash is old military hardware bought new (155mm cannon/m16/). Or new tech done badly (F35, V22, ACV or Zulmat). Or simply pork (subsidies to Oil producers). These examples already far surpass the NASA budget.

Gildas Dubois
5th November, 2013 @ 02:07 am PST
Post a Comment

Login with your gizmag account:

Or Login with Facebook:


Related Articles

Just enter your friends and your email address into the form below

For multiple addresses, separate each with a comma




Privacy is safe with us because we have a strict privacy policy.

Looking for something? Search our 26,492 articles