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

Providing a secure and efficient Helpdesk

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. ®

Internet Security Threat Report 2014

More from The Register

next story
MARS NEEDS WOMEN, claims NASA pseudo 'naut: They eat less
'Some might find this idea offensive' boffin admits
SECRET U.S. 'SPACE WARPLANE' set to return from SPY MISSION
Robot minishuttle X-37B returns after almost 2 years in orbit
LOHAN crash lands on CNN
Overflies Die Welt en route to lively US news vid
Experts brand LOHAN's squeaky-clean box
Phytosanitary treatment renders Vulture 2 crate fit for export
You can crunch it all you like, but the answer is NOT always in the data
Hear that, 'data journalists'? Our analytics prof holds forth
No sail: NASA spikes Sunjammer
'Solar sail' demonstrator project binned
America's super-secret X-37B plane returns to Earth after nearly TWO YEARS aloft
674 days in space for US Air Force's mystery orbital vehicle
Carry On Cosmonaut: Willful Child is a poor taste Star Trek parody
Cringeworthy, crude and crass jokes abound in Steven Erikson’s sci-fi debut
Origins of SEXUAL INTERCOURSE fished out of SCOTTISH LAKE
Fossil find proves it first happened 385 million years ago
prev story

Whitepapers

Forging a new future with identity relationship management
Learn about ForgeRock's next generation IRM platform and how it is designed to empower CEOS's and enterprises to engage with consumers.
Why and how to choose the right cloud vendor
The benefits of cloud-based storage in your processes. Eliminate onsite, disk-based backup and archiving in favor of cloud-based data protection.
Three 1TB solid state scorchers up for grabs
Big SSDs can be expensive but think big and think free because you could be the lucky winner of one of three 1TB Samsung SSD 840 EVO drives that we’re giving away worth over £300 apiece.
Reg Reader Research: SaaS based Email and Office Productivity Tools
Read this Reg reader report which provides advice and guidance for SMBs towards the use of SaaS based email and Office productivity tools.
Security for virtualized datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.