Curiosity Rover clears Martian dune


February 12, 2014

A view of the Martian dune, from Curiosity Rover (Photo: NASA)

A view of the Martian dune, from Curiosity Rover (Photo: NASA)

Image Gallery (3 images)

Curiosity Rover has cleared a sand dune that has barred the mission's progress since January 30th. The dune, roughly three feet (one meter) in height, stood between two scarps. It effectively blocked the way forward to Dingo Gap, the Rover's next immediate destination before proceeding to the drill site designated KMS-9.

Despite the fact that the route west through Dingo Gap is by far the shortest route to KMS-9, with the distance standing at 800 meters (2,624 ft) as the crow flies, the team was compelled to find a safer path for the rover to traverse. Whilst a three-foot dune sounds like a relatively minor impediment for a rover that cost US$2.5 billion to construct, there were significant concerns raised by the team regarding damage to Curiosity's aluminum wheels.

Jim Erickson, project manager for the NASA Mars Science Laboratory Project, stated in December, 2013 that "Dents and holes were anticipated, but the amount of wear appears to have accelerated in the past month or so. It appears to be correlated with driving over rougher terrain.”

Signs of wear begin to show on Curiosity's left-front wheel (Photo: NASA)

The team is currently investigating new ways to minimize the risk to the wheels. Current suggestions from the Jet Propulsion Lab include driving the rover backwards and using four-wheel drive instead of the usual six-wheel drive.

Regardless, having weighed options by observing both images sent back from Curiosity peeking over the lip of the dune, and from overhead shots of possible alternative routes from NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, the team decided that to climb the dune presented the smallest threat. On Feb. 9, Curiosity successfully traversed the dune.

The time Curiosity sat idling was not entirely wasted, however. On Jan. 31 as the Rover waited for the team to decide which route it would take, it turned its camera to take this snapshot of the Earth, which at the time was 99 million miles (160 million km) away.

As of Feb. 11, Curiosity has covered an additional 135 feet (41.1 m) on its way through Dingo Gap to KMS-9, putting its total odometer reading at 3.09 miles (4.97 km) since its landing in August, 2012. Upon reaching KMS-9, the rover will drill for further rock samples in its ongoing attempt to assess ancient habitable environments and major changes in Martian environmental conditions.

Source: NASA

About the Author
Anthony Wood Anthony is a recent law school graduate who also has a degree in Ancient History, for some reason or another. Residing in the UK, Anthony has had a passion about anything space orientated from a young age and finds it baffling that we have yet to colonize the moon. When not writing he can be found watching American football and growing out his magnificent beard. All articles by Anthony Wood

Really sad, an amazing story about engineering, amazing science, amazing people getting this project up and running. Yet... the American population is more concerned about some silly pop-entertainer, that they know all about.

To all the people associated with this amazing project, kudos, you are all awesome!


The long service life and resultant wear & tear on the wheels underscores the underpinning great engineering in the whole system. From the manufacturers throughout the design, build, launch & operational teams this has been a tour-de-force demonstration. The Chinese and others are finding that intellectual property theft only goes just so far. For the Jade Wabbit that distance would appear to just be a few hundred feet and a few days.

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