The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Mars rover Curiosity was able to successfully climb a hill on Tuesday to reach a geological site on the red planet. The robotic rover was able to map out an alternative route after its initial path proved to be inaccessible due to slippery slopes.
Curiosity had to travel an estimated 72 feet up several slopes at 21 degree angles in order to get to a designated zone where two distinct types of rocks meet.
NASA's rover research team hopes to investigate the area which they believe contains the contact between the pale rock sample they retrieved on Mount Sharp and a darker, bedded rock the researchers have yet to analyze.
The rover was supposed to travel to a similar site a couple of weeks ago, but the mission had to be rerouted after the surface area was found to be too slippery. The mission was continued after a path westward was identified.
Chris Roumeliotis, NASA's lead rover driver for Curiosity, explained that strategic planning for the Mars mission is designed so that the rover science team could take different routes if in case they encounter such scenarios.
"Mars can be very deceptive," Roumeliotis said. "We knew that polygonal sand ripples have caused Curiosity a lot of drive slip in the past, but there appeared to be terrain with rockier, more consolidated characteristics directly adjacent to these ripples. So we drove around the sand ripples onto what we expected to be firmer terrain that would give Curiosity better traction."
"Unfortunately, this terrain turned out to be unconsolidated material too, which definitely surprised us and Curiosity."
Curiosity has encountered wheel slippage in three of its previous drives. It has also stopped in the middle of one mission for safety.
The onboard software system on Curiosity is capable of calculating the slippage it experiences by analyzing the tally of its wheel rotation compared to the actual distance the rover has driven. It also makes use of images it has taken during missions.
The first route for Curiosity in its hill climb was a path called "Jocko Butte," which was in the eastern section of "Logan Pass."
When they discovered that the rover cannot travel through the path, the researchers decided to plan a new route. They were able to determine a better path after analyzing images taken by Curiosity and those taken using the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.
After Curiosity was able to reach the base of Mount Sharp last year, the current mission for the rover and his team is to examine the different higher layers of the mountain.