NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity is on extended auto-pilot for the holidays, surveying site known as “Grandma’s House.”
With most of its ground control team taking time off this week, Curiosity was loaded up with operating instructions for 11 days, NASA said in a video update posted on its website.
Scientists will be reviewing Curiosity’s surveys and science data to look for a suitable rock to test the rover’s drill for the first time.
Curiosity landed inside an ancient crater near the planet’s equator on Aug. 6 for a two-year mission to determine if Mars has or ever had the ingredients and environments to support and preserve microbial life.
The extended auto-pilot is a good test for a two-week period in April when the sun is between Earth and Mars, blocking radio contact between ground controllers and the rover, said Colette Lohr, a rover communications lead at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif.
At “Grandma’s House,” which is within the shallow depression known as “Yellowknife Bay,” Curiosity is due to acquire a 360-degree panorama.
Images: Top: A view of “Yellowknife Bay” taken by the Mars rover Curiosity on Dec. 12. The rover is scouting the shallow depression for a suitable rock to drill, the last instrument to be tested since its arrival on Mars on Aug. 6. Right: A map showing Curiosity’s travels so far. The inset is the most recent area of travel. Next year, the rover will head to Mount Sharp, a three-mile high mound of layered sediment rising from the floor of the Gale Crater landing site. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Arizona