Scarecrow Mars rover takes spin in California desert
Lisa Grossman, reporter
(Image: Gene Blevins/Reuters)
NASA’s nuclear-powered rover Curiosity is still on its way to Mars and won’t arrive until August, but its Earth double is already getting its wheels dirty. Scientists took the duplicate – called “Scarecrow” because, unlike the real rover, it has no computer brains – out in the California desert for a dress rehearsal this week.
Because Martian gravity is weaker than Earth’s, Scarecrow is less massive than the real rover, but exerts the same amount of pressure on the ground as Curiosity will on Mars. The dry run will test the rover’s navigation and how well its wheels handle real sand dunes. These were the downfall of one of Curiosity’s predecessors, the now-defunct rover Spirit. Although Curiosity’s monster-truck size means it can just roll over obstacles that previous rovers had to tiptoe around, it may still be susceptible to getting stuck in the sand.