It’s official: Mars rover Curiosity is currently roving Mars at an average speed of one kilometer per year. Sure, the six-wheeled robot may sound like a bit of a slow poke, but today’s landmark distance is a significant milestone. Well, kilometerstone.
Curiosity landed on Mars on Aug. 5, 2012, and has since uncovered undeniable proof of ancient flowing rivers and past habitability for life as we know it. But Curiosity isn’t a stationary lander, it’s a rover, and it has just recommenced its roving duties after a several month stopover in a geologically-interesting area called Glenelg. The rover has been drilling, lasing and scooping its way through Martian history, piecing together the “habitability puzzle” of the Red Planet.
Earlier this month, however, mission managers sent commands to Curiosity to cease being a mechanical geologist (for now) and to continue its long, eight kilometer trek to the Mount Sharp (officially known as Aeolis Mons), a 5 kilometer-high peak in the center of Gale Crater. And today, during the Martian early afternoon on sol 335 of the mission, Curiosity completed its first kilometer.
“When I saw that the drive had gone well and passed the kilometer mark, I was really pleased and proud,” said rover driver Frank Hartman of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif. “Hopefully, this is just the first of many kilometers to come.”
Today’s drive covered 38 meters (125 feet) of the rocky terrain, nudging the total odometry to 1.029 kilometers (3,376 feet).
The Glenelg area is approximately half a kilometer from Curiosity’s landing site, so although it may have taken a year for the rover to meander one kilometer, it did half of that distance in the last 2 weeks. Not such a slow poke after all.
Image: Curiosity’s front Hazcam took this photo of the Martian landscape just as it passed the 1 kilometer mark. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech