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Curiosity rover to take up mountain climbing on Mars

After two years of exploration and driving, NASA's Curiosity rover has finally reached the base of Mount Sharp, a major goal of the mission.

Curiosity selfie
Curiosity took this selfie to celebrate its first year on Mars. NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Imagine standing in a vast crater on Mars and looking up at a mountain the size of Mount Rainier. That's how big Mount Sharp is. NASA's Curiosity rover arrived at the base of the mountain and is set to delve deeply into the geologic makeup of the Red Planet. NASA describes the site as Curiosity's "long-term prime destination."

Mount Sharp is important because it gives scientists a chance to explore Mars in layers. It will be like reading through a book about Mars, with each layer representing a different chapter of the planet's environmental history. Curiosity is kicking things off with a look at an outcrop named Pahrump Hills, where the base of Mount Sharp and the surrounding Gale Crater meld together. It will then start working its way up the mountain.

Curiosity has had quite a journey to reach its current location. It's traveled about 5.5 miles along the way and is dealing with the unexpected issue of damage to four of its six wheels. Sharp rocks stuck into the ground created holes in the wheels and required some re-routing to get the rover out of the danger zone.

"We have been driving hard for many months to reach the entry point to Mount Sharp. Now that we've made it, we'll be adjusting the operations style from a priority on driving to a priority on conducting the investigations needed at each layer of the mountain," says Jennifer Trosper, Curiosity deputy project manager at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

While some climbers will tell you they conquer mountains "because they are there," Curiosity is looking to conquer Mount Sharp "because science!"