August 03, 2023

NASA’s Curiosity rover recently made its most challenging climb on Mars. Curiosity faced a steep, slippery slope on its journey up Mount Sharp, so rover drivers had to come up with a creative detour. After the detour, Curiosity stopped by a new area with intriguing impact craters to explore.

This edition of the Mars Report, set in the Jet Propulsion Laboratory’s Mars Yard and the Curiosity rover operations area, features rover driver Dane Schoelen explaining how the team found another route with less hazardous terrain. Curiosity will celebrate its 11th anniversary on Mars on Aug. 5.

For more information on Curiosity’s tough climb, visit

For more information on NASA's Mars missions, visit


What happens when a rover gets stuck on Mars?

Curiosity just made it through one of its toughest climbs yet as it's about to turn 11 years old. Let me show you how.

Here in the Mars Yard, test rovers try out terrain that the actual rovers on the Red Planet have to deal with. Curiosity has been facing a particularly challenging last couple of months, and here to tell us all about that is Rover driver Dane Schoelen. Welcome, Dane.

Thanks, Marina. And that's right. The last two months, we've been climbing a steep part of Mount Sharp, which has been quite a challenge. The good news is our team has found a detour and we're back on track.

When we made the original plan to drive over this ridge years ago, we were using orbital images which aren't detailed enough to show us all of the hazards. It was only when Curiosity got close and took images of the area that we could see just how much of a challenge it would be.

It's like the difference between Google Maps and street view.

There are three things that make driving on Mars hard: steep slopes, rocks and sand. And this ridge had all three. We tried seven drives on the original route, but we kept slipping. And we have to be careful with Curiosity's wheels, as they've already taken a lot of hits on the rough Martian terrain.

We zigzagged around this area for a couple of weeks trying to make our way up the ridge, but we just weren't making any progress. We needed to try something different. Let's head to the place where we plan our routes.

From testing to actually planning the rover drives, how did you come up with a new route?

Well, there's actually a team of us that plan our routes, which can be tricky. We're essentially offroading because there's no roads on Mars yet. Us rover planners work with the science team members to pick our routes, to get to the interesting locations while avoiding the hazards.

After so many faulted drives on this particular route, we knew we needed to pull the plug and find an area nearby with lower slopes, less sand, and fewer boulders. We decided to make our way to an area 150 meters away.

It was a monthlong commitment to take this detour with no guarantee we wouldn't run into difficult terrain again. But at least we were moving forward. And that's life on Mars.

What was it like to finally get over that ridge?

Oh, yeah. What a great view. You can see where we got stuck. And then the detour we took to finally get on top. I get to look at images of Mars every day, so I really get a sense of the landscape. I often feel like I'm standing there right next to Curiosity, looking back at just how far it has climbed

Getting Curiosity through that challenge over the last two months has been a huge accomplishment and so rewarding.

So where is Curiosity headed to next?

Well, we're headed back to the original route up Mount Sharp, where we recently investigated a cluster of craters. We don't see the scale of craters very frequently, so the science team wanted to check it out.

Curiosity is celebrating its 11-year 'Landiversary' and is still going strong. There's something new to discover every day when you're going where no rover has gone before.

To get the latest updates, follow @NASAJPL and @NASAMars on social media, or take a deeper dive on the Mission website.


NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS/USGS-Flagstaff/University of Arizona

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