NASAs Curiosity rover has made its first test drive on Mars. On sol 16 the rover moved forward 4.5m, turned 120°, and finally reversed 2.5m, leaving behind a series of visible tracks at the Bradbury (recently named after the writer Ray Bradbury) landing site.
Curiosity’s first drive was an important part of its preparation for exploring the red planet. During the next two years the rover will drive over 20 km as it moves between many different rock outcrops, studying each with its collection of analytical apparatus and helping to determine the past and present habitability of Mars. The test drive, which took only 5 minutes to complete, was the first of several that will be used over the next week or so to confirm that the rover’s mobility system is fully functioning and able to withstand the much longer drives ahead. Although the major aim is Mt. Sharp at the centre of Gale crater, on the way Curiosity will first visit Glenelg, an outcrop where satellites show an intersection between 3 distinct rock types.
Whilst we’re on the subject of rock types, NASA have also released details of the spectrum collected by the ChemCam from Coronation rock. The rock contains elements such as Si, Fe, Al, and Ca, confirming that it’s likely a basalt. This a volcanic rock formed by the cooling of lava on or just below the surface and is common on Mars. The spectrum also showed C peaks, from the CO2 in the Martian atmosphere, and H, which interestingly was only seen in the first spectrum suggesting that it was present on the surface of the rock but not inside it.