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On the Road Again: FIDO Begins a Voyage of New Discovery

View a larger image (255 kB) or learn about other sol 16 images.

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.

John Grant

"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 something intriguing."

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," explains Grant.

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?

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Last Updated: 17 August 2002

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