Feeds

NASA quandary: Should Curiosity channel Fast and Furious for Martian dune-buggy jump?

Rover prepares to brave the 'Dingo Gap' to reach Mount Sharp

Intelligent flash storage arrays

NASA scientists are preparing to put Curiosity through its toughest challenge yet, scaling a meter-high sand dune that could leave the Mars rover stranded, immobilized.

Dingo Gap

Let's go off-road!

The boffins behind Curiosity are looking for the best possible route to the rover's next goal, Mount Sharp, but the two routes open to them at the moment are rock-covered escarpments that could damage the rover's wheels, which have already taken a greater-than-expected pounding.

The rover's six aluminum wheels have already accumulated a few dents, dings and rips from the tough Martian regolith. NASA is experimenting with using four-wheel drive, rather than using all six motors, to try and make life easier on the rover, but the team also wants to move it onto smoother ground.

One solution is to take a route dubbed Dingo Gap – a wind-blown sand dune that stretches between the two escarpments. If Curiosity can make it over that dune, it faces a relatively smooth route ahead. But considering that Curiosity's older cousin Spirit is still stuck in a sand dune on the other side of the planet, it's a tough call to make.

"The decision hasn't been made yet, but it is prudent to go check," said Jim Erickson, Curiosity's project manager at NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory. "We'll take a peek over the dune into the valley immediately to the west to see whether the terrain looks as good as the analysis of orbital images implies."

Mars dune

Slow and steady does it

The rover is now sitting on the eastern side of Dingo Gap, and the NASA team is checking to see how firm the sand is under the SUV-sized rover's wheels. The rover drove a little way up the dune before retreating, and the scientists are now trying to see if it's safe to go seriously off-road.

Back here on Earth the temptation, as envisaged by endless Hollywood clichés, would be to rush the dune, shoot up one side, and jump over to the other side, all with a resounding "Yee-haw!" from Vin Diesel and a shot of nitrous oxide to the engine.

NASA's not going to bother with that, but instead intends to take things very slow and steady if it decides to go for the Dingo Gap. You don't take chances with something as precious as Curiosity, particularly when the nearest tow truck is nearly 100 million miles away. ®

Providing a secure and efficient Helpdesk

More from The Register

next story
GRAV WAVE DRAMA: 'Big Bang echo' may have been grit on the scanner – boffins
Exit Planet Dust on faster-than-light expansion of universe
SpaceX Dragon cargo truck flies 3D printer to ISS: Clawdown in 3, 2...
Craft berths at space station with supplies, experiments, toys
That glass of water you just drank? It was OLDER than the SUN
One MEELLION years older. Some of it anyway
NASA rover Curiosity drills HOLE in MARS 'GOLF COURSE'
Joins 'traffic light' and perfect stony sphere on the Red Planet
Big dinosaur wowed females with its ENORMOUS HOOTER
That's right, Doris, I've got biggest snout in the prehistoric world
Japanese volcano eruption reportedly leaves 31 people presumed dead
Hopes fade of finding survivors on Mount Ontake
Relive the death of Earth over and over again in Extinction Game
Apocalypse now, and tomorrow, and the next day, and the day after that ...
prev story

Whitepapers

A strategic approach to identity relationship management
ForgeRock commissioned Forrester to evaluate companies’ IAM practices and requirements when it comes to customer-facing scenarios versus employee-facing ones.
Storage capacity and performance optimization at Mizuno USA
Mizuno USA turn to Tegile storage technology to solve both their SAN and backup issues.
High Performance for All
While HPC is not new, it has traditionally been seen as a specialist area – is it now geared up to meet more mainstream requirements?
Beginner's guide to SSL certificates
De-mystify the technology involved and give you the information you need to make the best decision when considering your online security options.
Security for virtualized datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.