Mars Curiosity team had a plan to one day drive the rover to the top of a sloping area called the Greenheugh pediment, but it was months or years away from happening. NASA may have just found a shortcut.
While hanging out at a recent drill site, scientists spotted a possible route to get the rover to the top of the pediment way ahead of schedule. "In the end, we decided the science rationale to ascend now were so compelling, it was worth going for it," wrote NASA planetary geologist Abigail Fraeman in a mission update on Wednesday.
It will take several careful drives to ascend the pediment and the rover will face slopes of at least 30 degrees. "We've never driven up slopes this steep with Curiosity before, and we don't actually know if the rover will be able to make it all the way up and over," Fraeman wrote.
Curiosity recently set a tilt record for itself as it checked out some fascinating lumpy formations. The planned route may push the rover past that 26.9-degree mark. Despite the challenges, the team doesn't expect the rover to be in any danger as it climbs.
Exploring the pediment should help the Curiosity team learn more about the intriguing geology of this area of the Gale Crater. "We don't know if we'll be able to make it onto the pediment capping unit here," Fraeman wrote, "but we know we'll discover something completely new if we do reach the top."