NASA’s Curiosity Rover is going on holiday, but not on a conventional trip. The rover is currently on its way towards Mount Sharp, a 3.4-mile-high mountain on Mars. Commonly referred to as the “Sulfate-bearing unit”, Mount Sharp could be an oasis of information regarding the formation and evolution of the Red Planet. Sulfates usually form in areas in which antique water has evaporated, leaving behind these chemical substances.
What will we learn about?
Even one sample of the sulfate area could offer us new insight into the history of the surface of the Red Planet and especially the tremendous changes it has undergone about three billion years ago. That is when the planet has lost the biggest part of its atmosphere, thus making the existence of running water impossible on the surface of Mars.
Of course, as is the case with all journeys, and especially the ones taken in outer space, there will be a lot of obstacles on the way. Curiosity needs to show off its off-road capabilities and manage to cross the rocky terrain while reducing the damage incurred to its wheels, which are a part that is prone to decay, but it definitely cannot be changed.
How Social Distancing Affects What Happens on Mars
The drivers of the rover are currently working from home, which is one of the social distancing measures taken by NASA. This should not cause too many problems, especially considering the fact that Curiosity is perfectly capable of driving by itself, making use of artificial intelligence.
Matt Gildner, the head of the team of rover drivers at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California, has explained in a statement that the rover can control itself fine, but it cannot really achieve its missions. It can avoid risky terrain, for instance, but cannot make decisions regarding when and how to study. If the rover does not know what to do, it stops.