On the Road Again: FIDO Begins a Voyage of New Discovery
After 9 sols spent exploring nearby sites that looked scientifically
interesting from Navcam and Pancam pictures, the FIDO test team
decided it was time for the rover to hit the road.
And this time, they weren't quite sure what they would find.
Today, engineers commanded FIDO to begin a 71 meter (233 feet) traverse to a
southern part of the field site that was too far away to be seen clearly in
Navcam and Pancam images. A distant view of promising landforms
combined with orbital images of the same area convinced scientists that
they had to check it out. Why? Because they suspect that some of the
land features may have been created by water.
"I got into this profession because I love exploring and
discovering," says geologist John Grant. "When we finish
this drive, we're going to see a totally different view, and suddenly
we'll have all kinds of new targets to look at and learn from."
Grant also serves as co-chair on the landing site selection steering
committee for the rover mission. He knows that while picking a
landing site rich in geologic features is critical, moving to new locations is
equally as important. "We put wheels on the rover for a reason.
To really accurately piece together a picture of where we've landed, we
have to get to the places we can't see from the lander."
Scientists have discussed pushing the rover as far as 200 meters
(about 656 feet) south of the landing site where terrain seen in the
distance and orbital data both indicate that different types of land exist there.
Grant is quick to point out that while exploring new terrain would be
exciting, he and his teammates might - by choice - not make it that far.
"It's likely that something's going to pique our interest along the
way, and we'll spend a few sols investigating there before moving on
again." The FIDO rover can drive approximately 70 meters
(about 230 feet) per sol. Lack of time makes any greater distance
unachievable. "It could take several sols of pure drive time to get to
this target, and we only have 10 sols left in the mission. We have to
compromise on when to keep going and when to stay and investigate
One of the really neat land characteristics scientists are hoping to find
in this new terrain are mud cracks. Mud cracks are an indication of recent
water pooling that could have left microbial life behind. This look into
the "modern" (occurring in last 10 years) environment would
reveal new data about the diversity of this alluvial (water-formed) plain
that hasn't been uncovered yet. "We've done a lot of analysis on
ancient material like outcrops and cross-beds and now understand more
about the processes that have been at work in this region over the last
millions of years. What we haven't gotten a good grip on is what's
happened here in the last 10 years, or the more modern processes,"
One of the strategies scientists will use at the FIDO site and on Mars
to peek into the modern processes of a landform is to "trench it."
The rover is able to dig a small trench by "spinning" its wheels
into the ground. Scientists can then look at the walls of the trench and
see layers that record events that have shaped the surface over the last
decade or so. Unlike on Earth, it is believed that the martian surface
hasn't changed much at all in millions of years, giving "modern"
a whole new meaning on the red planet.
Tune in to sol 17 to find out where FIDO ended up. What will new
images reveal? What will scientists investigate? Will the rover stay or
will it continue its journey?