Have you ever taken a different way home just to avoid pothole-riddled roads? If so, you’re thinking just like the team driving the Mars Curiosity rover. Alarmed that the tough, air craft grade aluminum wheels were getting overly dinged up and punctured by sharp rocks, NASA commanded the rover to leave the higher ground, cross Dingo Gap (Feb. 6) and head for sandier, less rocky terrain.
On Tuesday, Feb. 18, the rover covered 329 feet (100.3 meters), the mission’s first long trek that used reverse driving and its farthest one-day advance in more than three months.
Driving backwards lessens wheel damage from sharp rocks and has been used – to different purposes – on both the Spirit Rover and Opportunity. Spirit was helped when one of its front wheels stopped working; Opportunity drives backwards half the time to distribute lubricant evenly in all wheels. I don’t recommend the backwards technique when dodging potholes in the earthly realm.
Curiosity’s got about 2/3 miles (1.1 km) of mostly valley travel until it reaches its next scientific waypoint “Kimberley”, named for the northwestern Australia region with very old rocks. A variety of different rock types meet at the location making it a great spot to use the sample-collection drill to gather and analyze powdered samples of new material.
Curiosity has driven 937 feet (285.5 meters) since the Feb. 9 dune-crossing and a total of 3.24 miles (5.21 km) since its August 2012 landing.