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Mars rover Curiosity aces test drive, proving it can, indeed, rove (+video)

Mars rover covered nearly 23 feet in 16 minutes – 'a very big moment,' mission scientists say. The landing site, Bradbury Landing, honors science-fiction writer Ray Bradbury.

Mars curiosity takes a test drive
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Curiosity, a one-ton rover on the surface of Mars, completed its first test drive today, covering nearly 23 feet in 16 minutes, including time out for snapshots along the way.

The successful test of the rover's ability to leave Bradbury Landing – the name the science team has given to the rover's landing spot to honor science-fiction writer Ray Bradbury, who passed away in June – marks a significant milestone in the check-out process.

Now the team is preparing to begin what they term an intermission, lasting from a few days to a week. Although the period sounds like Curiosity is getting a break, it isn't. Scientists will use the period to perform initial check-outs of one of two remaining instruments on the first-tests list, as well as put several currently operating instruments through more advanced tests.

When that period ends, it's off to Glenelg, an intriguing junction of three geological features some 440 yards from Curiosity's current location.

Since it landed on the Red Planet early on the morning Aug. 6, Eastern Standard Time, the rover has passed virtually all of its tests so far with flying colors. One glitch cropped up as the ground team tested one of the wind sensors on the rover's weather station. Otherwise, the check-out process has gone flawlessly, mission officials say.

As for the significance of Curiosity's shakedown cruise, the mission's project manager, Peter Theisinger, put it bluntly: "We built a rover, and unless the rover roves, we really haven't accomplished anything."

"The fact that we completely exercised it and everything was on track" means the event marked a "very big moment," he added during a briefing on Wednesday at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif.

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