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This feed is mostly personal interest; it's NOT my professional writing. There's tech here, yes, but also lots of general science and some politics and weird humor thrown in.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Mars rover crosses figurative fingers, traverses Dingo Gap dunes

It's not exactly "The Dingo ate my rover," but NASA had good reason for concern when its large rover, Curiosity, found its path blocked by a tall sand dune.

One of Curiosity's predecessors, Mer-A, "Spirit," got stuck in a dune in 2009, and died there a few months later.

The dune Curiosity faced lay across a narrow valley named "Dingo Gap." Here are views from orbit and from the ground:

Closer up:

Compounding the problem, Curiosity's wheels have already taken a beating. They've developed cracks and fissures, which reduce the wheels' flotation effects, and also are worrisome for the rover's long-term mobility.The wheels are sustaining damage far faster than anticipated.

Sample cracks:

So, Curiosity paused for a while at the foot of the dunes while its operators weighed the risks and rewards; and tested the edges of the dunes to gauge the firmness.

But all went well, and the rover trundled across the dunes, as this GIF shows (rearward-facing cameras):

Here's the view from the far side of Dingo Gap, looking back at the dune:

Lots more: http://www.planetary.org/blogs/emily-lakdawalla/2014/curiosity-update-sols.html