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Mars Driving on Auto-pilot

Curiosity rover tried out auto-nav in a recent drive. Credit: MSSS-MALIN

Caught on camera - Phobos flyby. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Malin Space Science Systems/Texas A&M Univ.

NASA’s Curiosity rover on Mars geared itself into autonomous navigation (autonav) – a first time drive that helps the robot steer itself en route to Mount Sharp.

The capability uses software that engineers adapted to this larger and more complex vehicle from a similar capability used by NASA’s Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity, which remains on duty at Mars.

In autonav, Curiosity can analyze images it takes during a drive to calculate a safe driving path. This enables it to proceed safely even beyond the area that the human rover drivers on Earth can evaluate ahead of time.

Curiosity is nearly two months into a multi-month trek from the “Glenelg” area, where it worked for the first half of 2013.

The rover is headed to an entry point for the mission’s major destination: the lower layers of a 3-mile (5-kilometer) in height mound called Mount Sharp.

Curiosity landed inside Gale Crater over a year ago.

Caught on camera: Phobos

The Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) that built the wheeled robot also released three images taken three seconds apart showing from the surface of Mars the larger of the Red Planet’s two moons: Phobos.

Phobos passed directly in front of the sun as seen by Curiosity.

The rover used its telephoto-lens camera to snag the shots on Aug. 17, 2013, the 369th Martian day, or sol, of the robot’s work on Mars.

By Leonard David


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