After completing a successful test drive around a Martian crater, the Curiosity rover is ready to explore the surface of Mars.
The rover edged forward about 15 feet, rotated to a right angle and reversed a short distance, leaving tracks in the rust-tinged soil.
Mission managers were elated that Wednesday’s maiden trek of the $2.5 billion mission was glitch-free. In several days, Curiosity was poised to drive farther to study whether the red planet’s environment could have supported life.
It couldn’t be more important,” said project manager Peter Theisinger at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory. “We built a rover. So unless the rover roves, we really haven’t accomplished anything … It’s a big moment.”
The short spin came a day after Curiosity successfully wiggled its wheels to test its steering capabilities.
Curiosity landed in Gale Crater near the Martian equator Aug. 5 to explore whether the environment once supported microbial life. The touchdown site has been named Bradbury Landing in honor of the late author Ray Bradbury, who would have turned 92 on Wednesday.
The rover’s ultimate destination is Mount Sharp, a towering mountain that looms from the ancient crater floor. Signs of past water have been spotted at the base, providing a starting point to hunt for the chemical building blocks of life.
Before Curiosity journeys toward the mountain, it will take a detour to an intriguing spot 1,300 feet away where it will drill into bedrock. With the test drive out of the way, Curiosity was expected to stay at its new position for several days before making its first big drive — a trip that will take as long as a month and a half.
Curiosity won’t head to Mount Sharp until the end of the year.