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Mars rover tracks spell out Morse code message (+video)

During its first test drive on Mars, NASA's Curiosity rover left a Morse code imprint on the Red Planet's surface, a tribute to the one-ton robot's maker.

Mechanical Engineer Armen Toorian explains that the wheel tracks of the Mars rover Curiosity are used to determine how far the rover has traveled on the red planet.
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NASA's Mars rover Curiosity has left its first tracks in the Martian soil, imprinting the coded mark of its maker in its trail.

On Wednesday (Aug. 22), the car-size, six-wheeled rover took its first test drive since arriving on the Red Planet more than two weeks ago. Its drivers back on Earth ordered Curiosity to roll forward about 15 feet, (4.5 meters), turn right and then back up about 8 feet (2.5 m), such that when the robot stopped it was positioned to the left and roughly perpendicular to where it touched down inside Mars' Gale Crater.

"You can see in the tracks how we drive forward, and then you can see roughly a circle, which is where the rover did what we call its turn-in-place maneuver," said lead rover planner Matthew Heverly, of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. "So it steered all of its wheels and then performed a turn of a 120 degrees, pivoting about a point in the center of that circle, and then it backed up."

Curiosity's path to its new parking spot was emblazoned on the Martian surface by a series of dash and dot tread marks left in the soil by each of the rover's 20-inch diameter (50-centimeter) wheels. [Photos from Curiosity's First Drive on Mars]

The track pattern — dot-dash-dash-dash, dot-dash-dash-dot, dot-dash-dot-dot (".--- .--. .-..") — spells out "JPL" in Morse code, which translates letters and numbers into a series of short ("dot") and long ("dash") signals.

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