Curiosity Rover Roundup: “Brain Transplant” Done, Year-Long Trip To Mt. Sharp Starting Next Week

08.15.12 David Lumb

Once scientists finish checking out Curiosity’s instruments after its software update (cutely coined its “brain transplant” for switching the rover from “plane” to “drive” mode in its 4 GB of memory), it could drive a few meters as early as Sol 13/Aug 19 (today is Sol 9), with a full-fledged test drive on Sol 15/Aug 21. The update is about halfway done, but once the rover is fully mobile, it’s expected to cover about a football field a day, meaning it’ll take the better part of a year for it to reach Mt. Sharp over 5 miles away. Once it gets to the mountain, it’ll roam around the foothills, but given enough time, researchers say,the rover could ascend the mountain itself.

Remember, we like Mt. Sharp because the 3.4-mile-high mountain has clays and sulfates around its base, which the rover will test for organic molecules to see if Mars could have supported life. How will it test the material? By vaporizing it with a laser, of course! A beam shoots from the rover’s “head” and paperback-sized spectrometers discern the object’s elemental makeup by analyzing the light playing off the poof of pulverized rock.

Bonus: WIRED’s gallery of Nicholas Kahn and Richard Selesnick’s Mars-inspired artwork.

(Photo: NASA/JPL-Caltech/ESA/DLR/FU Berlin/MSSS)