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Curiosity now going BACKWARDS

There's no spare parts shop on Mars

Artist's concept of Curiosity

Putting a nuclear-powered, laser-armed space tank on Mars is one of humanity’s most remarkable achievements, and now we've even figured out how to make it go backwards!

Curiosity, the space tank in question, last week shifted into “R” and travelled just over 100 metres in a single day. That's the longest distance the rover has moved in about three months and a decent slice of the 5.21km it has travelled since landing in August 2012.

NASA's very pleased with the backwards journey because it thinks that the craft's wheels sustain less damage when it is in reverse. While last week's journey did not include notably nasty terrain, NASA has identified some rock-strewn areas between the craft's current location and Mount Sharp, the mission's current target as it has been identified as offering the chance to examine what NASA describes as “water-related minerals”.

Reversing the rover means it can add backwards motion to what NASA calls a “validated toolkit” of manoeuvres that can be deployed without causing undue risk.

As there are no known auto clubs or spare parts shops on Mars, testing reverse driving makes a lot of sense: replacement wheels are hard to come by on the Red Planet. Unless Curiosity discovers something most unexpected at Mount Sharp. ®

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