In a bit of derring-do that would make Bo and Luke of the Dukes of Hazzard proud, the Curiosity rover has traversed its latest route while driving in reverse.

Why would scientists drive a multimillion dollar Mars rover in reverse? Well, certainly it's not just for kicks. The maneuver was executed for a very good reason: to reduce the wear and tear experienced by the rover's metal wheels.

Back on Earth, NASA engineers have theorized that driving a rover in reverse could reduce the damage taken by its wheels when driving over rough terrain. The theory has already been tested on Earth, but a Mars test was never attempted until now. While the rover is currently traveling over smooth Martian soil, NASA scientists decided that this was a good opportunity to test out their theory before actually attempting it on rough Martian terrain. Tuesday's daring maneuver proved to be successful and scientists now have a valid proof of concept for their reverse drive theory.

"We wanted to have backwards driving in our validated toolkit because there will be parts of our route that will be more challenging," said Jim Erickson, the Curiosity Project Manager.

To map out the best possible routes for the Curiosity, NASA scientists analyzed images taken from Mars orbit. Scientists have grown increasingly concerned about the rover's metal wheels after finding numerous perforations on the wheels' surfaces. The rate at which the wheels took damage surprised NASA engineers and they were hard pressed to find less strenuous routes.

After analyzing the images, scientists found a possible route. However, the rover had to climb over a 3-foot tall dune to get to it. While this was the tallest dune the rover has attempted to cross, it successfully climbed and went over the dune on Feb. 9 of this year.

"After we got over the dune, we began driving in terrain that looks like what we expected based on the orbital data," Erickson said. "There are fewer sharp rocks, many of them are loose, and in most places there's a little bit of sand cushioning the vehicle."

After clearing all of the hurdles so far, Curiosity will continue to a target site referred to as KMS-9. While KMS-9 is simply a waypoint on the Curiosity's journey, the region holds certain scientific relevance and the rover will collect samples from the site. Curiosity's long -term goal is to reach the lower slopes of Mount Sharp, where it will investigate possible evidence of water on the Martian surface.

"We have changed our focus to look at the big picture for getting to the slopes of Mount Sharp, assessing different potential routes and different entry points to the destination area," said Erickson. "No route will be perfect; we need to figure out the best of the imperfect ones."

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