NASA’s Curiosity Rover has a long way to go to reach its next destination. Curiosity began its months-long journey to Mount Sharp earlier this week and in its third outing covered 135 feet of Martian terrain.
Curiosity has plenty of months on the open road of Mars as it heads toward Mount Sharp, NASA notes. Curiosity landed in the Gale Crater on Aug. 6, 2012, and traveled 500 yards, 1,500 feet to the Glenelg area of the crater, its first major area of study. The short distance to the Glenelg will be nothing compared to Curiosity’s trip to Mount Sharp. Over the course of several months, Curiosity will travel approximately 5 miles to the middle of the Gale Crater. The trip will be rather long, but it won’t mean Curiosity will not have time to take a few exploratory detours.
According to NASA, there are plans for Curiosity to explore particular sites of interest that it comes across as it heads to Mount Sharp. Jim Erickson, Mars Science Laboratory project manager from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, said in a statement, “This truly is a mission of exploration, so just because our end goal is Mount Sharp doesn't mean we're not going to investigate interesting features along the way.”
Since starting its journey, Curiosity has covered 325 feet of Martian terrain, a little more than 0.5 miles, and the third drive on Tuesday covered 135 feet. Curiosity’s main mission to Mars was to determine if Mars had the potential to sustain microbial life. Mount Sharp has more layers of exposed rock that Curiosity will drill into as part of its mission. The extra layers could lead to a better understanding of Mars’ history as well as the evolution of the planet, from once being able to sustain water and microbial life to the red planet being devoid of both, NASA reports.
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During its investigation of the Glenelg area, Curiosity discovered evidence of a wet environment that was capable of sustaining microbial life in Mars’ past, thus completing its primary objective. NASA’s other Mars rover, Opportunity, discovered evidence of running water that was drinkable.