Mars Science Laboratory mission team members ran mobility tests on California sand dunes in early May 2012 in preparation for operating the Curiosity rover, currently en route to Mars for an August landing in Gale Crater. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech
The test rover that they put through paces on various sandy slopes has a full-scale version of Curiosity’s mobility system, but it is otherwise stripped down in accordance to the lesser gravity of Mars.
Information collected in these tests on windward and downwind portions of dunes will be used by the rover team in making decisions about driving Curiosity on dunes near a mountain in the center of Gale Crater.
First, however, the Mars Science Laboratory spacecraft, launched Nov. 26, 2011, must put Curiosity safely onto the ground. Safe landing on Mars is never assured, and this mission will use innovative methods to land the heaviest vehicle in the smallest target area ever attempted on Mars. Advances in landing heavier payloads more precisely are steps toward eventual human missions to Mars.