NASA is still aiming to get the Perseverance rover on its way to Mars this summer in spite of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, but the Curiosity rover is still setting records and doing science on the red planet even if it has to wait longer for some company. Curiosity recently took a new Mars selfie immediately before climbing its steepest slope yet. NASA has also shared a video detailing how the rover takes all those impressive selfies.
Curiosity landed on Mars in Gale Crater back in 2012. For the first few years, it explored the flat terrain around the landing site, but it started creeping up the slopes of Mount Sharp in 2014. Mount Sharp is the central peak in Gale Crater with a height of 3 miles (5 kilometers). Climbing this craggy structure allows Curiosity to analyze numerous geological layers and features, and it just reached new heights.
On March 6th, Curiosity made its way up a steep slope over three carefully orchestrated drives. According to NASA, the second of those drives tilted the rover to 31 degrees, the highest angle it has yet reached, and only a little behind Opportunity’s record of 32 degrees. Rover operators on Earth are careful to avoid tipping Curiosity when moving uphill, but this maneuver was well within the design tolerances. Curiosity’s rocker-bogie wheel system can keep the rover upright even at a 45-degree tilt. However, moving up steep slopes like this can cause the wheels to spin in place, and that can affect stability.
Before this climb, the rover took a moment to capture another amazing selfie with its Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI). This instrument is actually for taking close-up images of rock formations, but it’s a good selfie-stick, too. Curiosity also used its black and white navigation cameras to record a quick video of the process for the first time. Curiosity captured 86 individual frames with MAHLI — you can see the camera spin around to get all the necessary angles in the video above.
Back on Earth, NASA can stitch the images together to produce a panoramic selfie featuring Curiosity at the center (the top image). By moving the arm during captures, the team can even crop out the arm so it looks like the camera was floating in front of the rover. Curiosity still has a lot of work to do and selfies to take on Mars. It’ll probably still be trundling around whenever the Perseverance rover arrives.
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