NASA Mars rover begins trek to new destination

LOS ANGELES — The Mars rover Curiosity is hitting the road.

It headed east Tuesday, driving 52 feet toward a spot where it will use its robotic arm for the first time to drill into bedrock. It’ll take weeks for the six-wheel NASA rover to reach the site called Glenelg about a quarter mile away.

“It’s nice to see some Martian soil on our wheels,” mission manager Arthur Amador said in a statement Wednesday.

The drive was the third and longest one yet since the car-size rover touched down in an ancient crater Aug. 5 to study whether the Martian environment could have been favorable for life. The early drives have been deliberately short, allowing Curiosity to identify any hazards on the road and so that engineers can gain practice driving on the Martian terrain.

Scientists have said they eventually expect the rover to travel about the length of a football field a day.

Curiosity spent Wednesday at its new locale, snapping pictures of a distant mountain that is its ultimate destination. Intriguing layers of rocks have been spotted at the base and most of its two-year mission will be spent examining the lower slopes.

Since landing, Curiosity has been busy checking out its instruments and it’s not done yet. Next week, it will make a longer stop along the way to Glenelg to continue its health checkups.

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