CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. – NASA’s Curiosity rover is about to conduct some serious scientific drilling at Mars.
The space agency announced Thursday that the rover has reached the base of Mount Sharp, its destination since landing two years ago. Officials say drilling could begin as early as next week at an outcrop of rocks called Pahrump Hills.
Mount Sharp, located in ancient Gale Crater, rises nearly five-and-a-half kilometres. Curiosity began the eight kilometre trek over a year ago.
A scientific review panel has criticized the Curiosity team for an extended mission that involves too much driving and too little sampling. On Thursday, project scientist John Grotzinger of the California Institute of Technology promised “we are going to do a lot more drilling” now that the six-wheel Curiosity is at Mount Sharp.
NASA says the nuclear-powered Curiosity remains healthy, aside from worn wheels. Curiosity is a roving science laboratory with high-tech instruments to drill into rocks, forecast the weather and track radiation.
At $2.5 billion, it’s the most expensive mission to the red planet.