NASA's Curiosity rover stalled by Hidden Valley 'sand trap' on Mars

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Aug 19, 2014, 1:22 PM EDT (Updated)

It’s no easy task to pilot a 1-ton rover more than 35 million miles from Earth, and it gets even tougher when you stumble into a slippery sand trap.

NASA’s Mars Curiosity Rover is slowly winding its way toward the 3.4-mile-high Martian Mount Sharp, and the team had planned to navigate the sandy Hidden Valley to get there. But shortly after entering the swale, reports the rover had to turn around and exit after the team determined the sand was much more slippery than anticipated.

Curiosity project manager Jim Erickson noted they need to gain a “better understanding” of how Curiosity’s six wheels will handle Martian sand ripples — but Hidden Valley “is not a good location for experimenting.” A fair point.

The reroute is proving to be a major ordeal for NASA, largely because there’s no easy way out of Hidden Valley except for the northeastern and southwestern ends. So the team is currently eyeing contingencies to hopefully take the rover north of the sandy valley.

Ever since landing on the red planet back in August 2012, Curiosity has been working to eventually reach Mount Sharp — its final destination for the exploratory mission. The team plans to take Curiosity up the mountain’s foothill to trace Mars’ history and environmental changes from potentially habitable planet to giant red dustbin.

After making it this far, we sincerely hope the Curiosity team can figure out this whole sand-trap debacle. We can’t wait to see what the rover will find once it finally climbs that mountain.

(Via Space)