Later this year NASA’s robot Curiosity will land on Mars and scientists here on Earth will need to be prepared to drive it around the red planet’s surface. And to get ready for the task they’re practicing in-the-wild, in California’s Mojave Desert. Here’s a statement from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab explaining why this test run in a desert will help with the actual mission.
Team members of NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory mission took a test rover to Dumont Dunes in California’s Mojave Desert this week to improve knowledge of the best way to operate a similar rover, Curiosity, currently flying to Mars for an August landing.
The test rover that they put through paces on various sandy slopes has a full-scale version of Curiosity’s mobility system, but it is otherwise stripped down so that it weighs about the same on Earth as Curiosity will weigh in the lesser gravity of Mars.
Information collected in these tests on windward and downwind portions of dunes will be used by the rover team in making decisions about driving Curiosity on dunes near a mountain in the center of Gale Crater.