NASA's Mars rover Curiosity takes third short trip in long journey

Rover heads to Mount Sharp, its main exploratory point of interest

NASA's Mars rover Curiosity made its third short trip this week as part of a long trek that could take as much as a year.

Curiosity, an SUV-sized rover carrying 10 scientific instruments, drove 135 feet on Tuesday. The first two drives were made on July 4 and July 7, kicking off an approximately six-mile trip to the base of Mount Sharp, the goal of Curiosity's two-year exploratory mission.

NASA's Mars rover Curiosity took this image of the lower slopes of Mount Sharp, its next big destination, after a drive on Tuesday. (Photo: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

Before heading out on this trek, Curiosity had only driven about 500 yards from where it landed in August 2012.

However, this latest trip is one of the longest any rover has made on Mars. Curiosity's predecessor, Opportunity, made the longest trek, traveling 13 miles in 1,000 days.

After this third drive, Curiosity will have traveled a total of 325 feet into its long journey.

Mount Sharp, which sits in the middle of Gale Crater, where Curiosity landed, exposes many geological layers where scientists hope to find clues to how the ancient Martian environment evolved.

Curiosity isn't expected to climb to the top of Mount Sharp, though it will drive up a portion of it to investigate as many geological layers as possible.

NASA scientists have been eager to get Curiosity to Mount Sharp, since that is their main point of interest, but the rover already has made significant findings.

Less than two months after landing on the Red Planet, Curiosity found evidence of what scientists described as a "vigorous" thousand-year water flow on the planet's surface.

The rover is on a two-year mission to find evidence of whether Mars has, or ever had, an environment that could support life. The water evidence was a key discovery since it is one of the main elements necessary for life as we know it.

In March, Curiosity sent back what appears to be proof that Mars could have supported life in the distant past. The evidence came from the first rock that NASA technology has ever drilled on another planet.

The sample, which was analyzed by chemistry instruments on the rover, contained sulfur, nitrogen, hydrogen, oxygen, phosphorus and carbon -- key chemical ingredients for life.

This article, NASAs Mars rover Curiosity takes third short trip in long journey, was originally published at Computerworld.com.

Sharon Gaudin covers the Internet and Web 2.0, emerging technologies, and desktop and laptop chips for Computerworld. Follow Sharon on Twitter at @sgaudin, on Google+ or subscribe to Sharon's RSS feed. Her email address is sgaudin@computerworld.com.

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This story, "NASA's Mars rover Curiosity takes third short trip in long journey" was originally published by Computerworld.

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