Mars rover may attempt daring dune jump

By Casey Frye, CCNN Writer

Mars
This is the valley on the eastern side of the dune.

NASA’s Mars rover, named Curiosity, may attempt a daring leap over a sand dune. The multi-million dollar vehicle, which carries lots of high-tech scientific equipment, is stuck in front of a 3-foot-high sand dune and can’t continue its research mission. Even though getting over the dune is risky business, the pile of sand and rock is the only thing standing between the rover and its final destination – Mount Sharp.

While it would be fun to go off the jump at full throttle, the team of scientists controlling the rover have to be extra careful. After all, back in 2009, they lost a Mars rover called Spirit to a sand trap. Also, Curiosity has been roaming the martian terrain since 2012, so the vehicle’s 6 wheels have a bit of wear and tear. Since the car-sized rover weighs roughly 2,000 pounds, landing the jump could be just as bad as missing it. The team operating Curiosity will travel halfway up the dune to see how the rover reacts to the sand before doing anything dangerous.

If Curiosity can pull this off, it will finally reach Mount Sharp, where researchers hope to find a treasure trove of information on the Red Planet’s atmosphere and environment. The team operating the rover will decide which course of action to take later this week.

Image of martian landscape courtesy of NASA.