Mars Curiosity all set for test drive

NASA’s Mars Curiosity is ready to make its first brief test drive on Wednesday, August 22. As part of a series of major tests that have been running over the past several days, the robotic rover on Tuesday tested its wheels to make sure it’s ready for its first drive.
Speaking at a press conference Tuesday, Michael Watkins, a mission systems manager at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory said with this successful “wheel wiggle” test complete, NASA is ready for the rover’s first drive.

On Tuesday night, NASA engineers will send the rover commands to make its first moves across the Martian surface on Wednesday. It won’t be a long trek. The rover is expected to drive forward about 3 meters, turn around and drive back nearly as far. “The Curiosity rover and the ops team continue to hit home runs here,” Watkins said. “We’ve gotten through all of the tests successfully and on schedule… We have aggressive plans this week.”

On Sunday, the rover used its laser for the first time. It zapped a fist-sized rock with 30 pulses of its million-watt laser beam and then captured the light from the resulting plasma to analyze the rock’s makeup.
On Monday, NASA reported that Curiosity unstowed its 7-foot robotic arm and checked its joints and motors by extending and flexing it before stowing it again.

The test drive on Wednesday will be the next critical step in testing the rover to make sure it’s ready to take its first trek. That first trip is expected to take Curiosity to Glenelg, a spot that NASA scientists are eager to examine because it’s at the intersection of three different kinds of terrain. NASA expects that it will take Curiosity three to four weeks to reach Glenelg.

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