London, Feb 5: NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover will attempt to drive over a one metre-high dune.
The sand bank is currently blocking the robot’s path into a small valley and a route with fewer of the sharp rocks that lately have been making big dents in the vehicle’s aluminium wheels, the BBC reported.
US space agency engineers will take no risks, however. The rover will be commanded initially to climb only part way up the dune to see how it behaves.
The team is mindful that NASA’s Spirit rover was lost in a sand trap in 2009.
And the Opportunity rover, which has just celebrated 10 working years on the planet, very nearly went the same way in 2005 when it became stuck for several weeks in a deep dirt pile later dubbed “Purgatory Dune”.
Curiosity has already had one scuff at the base of the barrier, using a wheel to test the sand’s consistency.
The robot would have no problem managing the incline but mission planners will be concerned about the potential for any rocks hidden inside the dune to damage or snare Curiosity.
Engineers believe the path ahead between two scarps referred to as “Dingo Gap” will be kinder on the rover’s 50cm-diameter wheels.
These have been taking a hammering during the one-tonne vehicle’s traverse across the base of Mars’ equatorial Gale Crater.
Getting through Dingo Gap would allow the rover to access smoother ground as it heads towards future science targets. (ANI)