NASA may be on the edge of its seat as it waits to see if its aging Rover Opportunity will wake up from its prolonged downtime, but it is not the only piece of scientific hardware on the Red Planet. The loyal Curiosity rover is still strong and, after spending more than a year at its current location on the Ridge Vera Rubin, is ready to move on.
The Jet Propulsion Laboratory announced the Curiosity change today and exhibited a chic selfie that the rover took off before starting its journey. The rover will now travel south toward a new area of the great geographic feature known as Mount Sharp.
"Curiosity has been exploring the summit since September 2017," explains JPL in a blog post. "Now it's going to the clay production unit," which sits in a valley south of the ridge. Clay minerals in this unit may contain more clues about the ancient lakes that have helped form the higher levels Mount Sharp. "
Before the rover started his journey, JPL ordered him to take 57 photos of himself with his robotic arm. The group then joined the images to form the resulting image, overlapping the images carefully so that the robotic arm of the vehicle disappeared, pretending that the photo was taken by an external camera.
Curiosity has been on Mars since August 2012, and its initial mission timeline was scheduled to last about two years. Since then, it has surpassed the mark of six years and continues to perform at a level suitable for new scientific work.
2018 brought with it a series of challenges for the Curiosity team. The rover drill bit, which is used to drill rocks and obtain samples for further study, suffered a prolonged period of inactivity when a stabilization mechanism broke down. NASA engineers eventually came up with a new way for the rover to use its drill without the stabilizing arm in place, allowing it to continue its mission.