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NASA is now letting the Curiosity Mars rover decide more of its route across the planet using autonomous navigation.
The rover, having been up on Mars for over a year now, is being let off the leash by NASA, USA Today reports. The rover drove itself for the first time last Tuesday.
The rover analyses photographs to determine the best and safest path for the six-wheeled laboratory to take as it heads towards Mount Sharp. The rover only traveled 33 feet of the scheduled 141 foot trip for the day as it heads towards Sharp, but more distance will be allowed through the use of “autonav.”
Rover mobility engineer and driver Marm Maimone at NASA’s Propulsion Laboratory explained that Curiosity “takes several sets of stereo pairs of images, and the rover's computer processes that information to map any geometric hazard or rough terrain. …The rover considers all the paths it could take to get to the designated endpoint for the drive and chooses the best one.”
While Curiosity drove itself, it was still within an area previously deemed safe by operators.
The rover also took time on Thursday to view a solar eclipse. Reuters reports that Curiosity took pictures as Phobos, Mars’ moon, passed in front of the sun.
Curiosity scientist at Texas A&M University commented in a statement that “This one is by far the most detailed image of any Martian lunar transit ever taken.”
image: Wikimedia Commons