Monday, June 06, 2011

For Mars rovers, a friendly rivalry

Mars Rover
NASA's newest Mars rover, Curiosity, will be deployed to the planet to study rocks that may shed light on whether life existed there. But its cousin Opportunity, which is already there, may steal its thunder.

NASA's newest Mars rover — or a replica of it, anyway — sat expectantly at the bottom of a hill. After years in design and construction, the grandly named Mars Science Laboratory was ready to test its wheels on a 20-degree flagstone slope in the "Mars Yard" at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in La CaƱada Flintridge.

Engineers crowded around to see whether the rover's aluminum wheels and titanium suspension were ready for Martian terrain, which varies from bedrock to rocky soil to soft sand. The first wheel slowly pivoted into position. Then another. Then a third, fourth, fifth and sixth — all making a crinkly sound as they slid through the soil. Once in position, the craft crept up the flagstone slope at about 8 feet per minute.

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