The summer for us on Earth might have taken a darker turn due to COVID-19; however, thankfully, there is no pandemic on Mars. Even if there were, Curiosity wouldn't mind it we assume.
NASA announced on Monday that Curiosity's "summer road trip" at Mount Sharp would start. "By trip’s end, the rover will be able to ascend to the next section of the 3-mile-tall Martian (5-kilometer-tall) mountain it’s been exploring since 2014, searching for conditions that may have supported ancient microbial life," NASA stated.
Just keep roving, roving, roving. I’m on a mile-long quest around deep sand to study a part of Mount Sharp called the "sulfate-bearing unit." It may give more clues how climate on Mars and its prospects for life changed nearly 3 billion years ago. https://t.co/VN9V4rjItIpic.twitter.com/ljHfxEQ1Pj— Curiosity Rover (@MarsCuriosity) July 6, 2020
During the journey, the Martian voyager will cover a distance of around a mile (1.6 km) and take several months to complete.
Now that Curiosity has finished exploring the clay-bearing unit, it has got its eyes, well, cameras, on the sulfate-bearing unit. In order to understand how the "climate and prospects for life changed nearly 3 billion years ago", Curiosity will be looking at these areas that highlight the history of water in Gale Crater.
However, it is a bumpy road that goes there since all can not be roses. Curiosity will need to navigate through a large area of hazardous sand to reach its destination, which means it will either drive around it or risk getting stuck. Latter was the case for the Mars Spirit rover which got stuck in a sand trap in 2009, which is why NASA scientists have some sort of a beef with the Martian sand.
The rover team will plan the basic path and Curiosity's automated driving abilities will respond to potential terrain obstacles and use its own smarts to find the safest path. This summer road trip won't all be completed in solitude though, since the rover team, some currently working from home due to COVID-19 pandemic, may make Curiosity stop along the way for drilling samples and inspect anything that captures their attention.
Curiosity is expected to reach its destination in early fall and once it arrives there, it will continue its search for ancient microbial life conditions.
You can check out Curiosity’s route through this animation that was released by the space agency last year.