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Fri Dec 19 05:12:57 CAT 2014

Mars rover Curiosity heads east, driving 'beautifully'

Sapa-AFP | 30 August, 2012 10:19
The base of Mars' Mount Sharp - the rover's eventual science destination - is pictured in this August 27, 2012 NASA handout photo taken by the Curiosity rover. The image is a portion of a larger image taken by Curiosity's 100-millimetre Mast Camera on August 23. Scientists enhanced the color to show the Martian scene under the lighting conditions we have on Earth, which helps in analysing the terrain.
Image by: NASA/Reuters / REUTERS

Nasa’s Curiosity rover has begun its first major drive across the surface of Mars, handling "beautifully" as it prepares to start some serious scientific work, the US space agency said.

The $2.5 billion craft – which landed in Gale Crater on the Red Planet on August 6 -- plans to drive 400 metres east, to a spot where it may use its drill for the first time, to bore into the Martian rock.

The rover trundled about 16 metres Tuesday, its third drive and longer than its first two combined – positioning it to examine an area scoured by exhaust from the spacecraft engines that helped lower it to the ground.

It is pausing for about a day before heading off again on its eastwards trek, Nasa said in a written update.

"This drive really begins our journey toward the first major driving destination, Glenelg," said mission manager Arthur Amador of Nasa's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.

"It's nice to see some Martian soil on our wheels ... The drive went beautifully, just as our rover planners designed it," he added.

Glenelg is a location where three types of terrain intersect, and NASA experts hope it will provide a first rock target for drilling and analysis.

"We are on our way, though Glenelg is still many weeks away," said Curiosity scientist John Grotzinger. "We plan to stop for just a day at the location we just reached, but in the next week or so we will make a longer stop."

During the longer stop, Nasa experts plan to test its robotic arm and instruments at the end of the arm.

On Wednesday's stop, the rover was taking pictures of its ultimate destination, the slopes of nearby Mount Sharp.

It will use these pictures and images taken from its landing spot, about 33 feet apart, to produce three-dimensional information about the landscape to help it decide which path to take towards the mountain.

On Tuesday, the Curiosity rover beamed back the first song to be broadcast from the Martian surface.

"Reach for the Stars" by Grammy-winning US musician will.i.am was transmitted back to Earth as part of efforts to inspire more young people to get interested in science.

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