Washington : NASA’s Mars Curiosity rover has finally reached the Red Planet’s Mount Sharp – a Mount-Rainier-size mountain at the centre of the vast Gale Crater and the rover mission’s long-term prime destination.
After two years and nearly nine km of driving, Curiosity arrived at the base of Mount Sharp, the US space agency reported.
“Curiosity now will begin a new chapter from an already outstanding introduction to the world,” said Jim Green, director of NASA’s Planetary Science Division at NASA Headquarters in Washington, DC.
Curiosity’s trek up the mountain will begin with an examination of the mountain’s lower slopes.
The rover is starting this process at an entry point near an outcrop called Pahrump Hills rather than continuing on to the previously-planned, further entry point known as Murray Buttes.
“It has been a long but historic journey to this Martian mountain,” added Curiosity project scientist John Grotzinger.
The nature of the terrain at Pahrump Hills and just beyond is a better place to learn about the significance of this contact.
The decision to head uphill also draws from improved understanding of the region’s geography provided by the rover’s examinations of several outcrops during the past year.
Curiosity currently is positioned at the base of the mountain along a pale, distinctive geological feature called the Murray Formation.
While some of these terrain differences are not apparent in observations made by NASA’s Mars orbiters, the rover team still relies heavily on images taken by the agency’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) to plan Curiosity’s travel routes and locations for study.
NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory Project continues to use Curiosity to assess ancient habitable environments and major changes in Martian environmental conditions.