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Mars rover could start moving in a week

By the CNN Wire Staff
August 15, 2012 -- Updated 1117 GMT (1917 HKT)
Curiosity, NASA's Mars rover used the equivalent of a dust broom on its robotic arm to sweep away reddish, oxidized dust, revealing this gray patch of rock that resembles a paving stone. The rock is called "Bonanza King" and the rover team wants to use it as the rover's fourth drilling target, if it passes an evaluation by engineers. The photo was taken August 17, 2014, using the rover's mast camera, or Mastcam. Click through to see more of its images. Curiosity, NASA's Mars rover used the equivalent of a dust broom on its robotic arm to sweep away reddish, oxidized dust, revealing this gray patch of rock that resembles a paving stone. The rock is called "Bonanza King" and the rover team wants to use it as the rover's fourth drilling target, if it passes an evaluation by engineers. The photo was taken August 17, 2014, using the rover's mast camera, or Mastcam. Click through to see more of its images.
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Photos: Mars rover Curiosity
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STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Controllers "couldn't be happier" with Curiosity so far, a scientist says
  • The rover could take its first short test drive in about a week, the mission manager says
  • Curiosity landed in Gale Crater on August 6; scientists have been checking its systems

(CNN) -- The Mars rover Curiosity could go for its first, short test drive in about a week, once scientists finish checking out its instruments, controllers said Tuesday.

The mobile science lab touched down on Mars early on August 6 and has been beaming back images of the surface of Gale Crater ever since. But it hasn't yet moved from its landing site as controllers make sure its systems operate properly.

Mission manager Michael Watkins said NASA hopes to change that by the rover's 15th full day on Mars, "assuming everything goes well in between now and then." Controllers plan to make sure Curiosity's steering gear works properly on 13, then take it out for a drive of "a couple meters, then maybe turn and back up," he said.

Mars 'Mohawk Guy' inspires Obama

NASA's 'Mohawk Guy' celebrates Curiosity
Mars rover searching for signs of life

Curiosity has been getting an upgrade of its control software over the past few days -- a process NASA dubbed a "brain transplant." Ashwin Vasavada, a Curiosity project scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, told reporters that controllers "couldn't be happier with the success of the mission so far."

The rover's primary target is Mount Sharp, a peak about 8 kilometers (5 miles) away. But moving about a football field a day, with lengthy stops, it could take nearly a year to reach the slopes at the base of the mountain.

"Part of understanding Mount Sharp is understanding the context around it and some of the features that have formed on the plains where we're at," Vasavada said. Each stop to check out the features around the peak could involve "a few weeks of activity" at a time, he said.

The mountain is composed of layers of rock that have built up over time. Using its science tools, Curiosity will test for organic molecules, which would indicate the planet could have hosted life at one time.

What we've done on Mars, and what's next

Get up close on rare space center tours

Looking for life on the moons of Jupiter

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