* Rover takes pictures of Martian soil on 16-minute drive
* Curiosity expected to attempt longer drive in a week
By Irene Klotz
CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla., Aug 22 NASA's Mars rover
Curiosity took a 16-minute drive on Wednesday, its first since
reaching the Red Planet to search for habitats that could have
supported microbial life.
The $2.5-billion, two-year mission, NASA's first
astrobiology initiative since the 1970s-era Viking probes,
kicked off on Aug. 6, with a risky, but successful landing on at
a site NASA has named "Bradbury Landing," a nod to the late
science fiction author and space aficionado Ray Bradbury.
Aside from a quick steering test earlier in the week, the
one-ton rover had stood firmly on its six wheels since touching
down inside an ancient impact basin called Gale Crater, located
in the planet's southern hemisphere near the equator.
At 10:17 a.m. EDT on Wednesday, Curiosity became a rover,
trudging out a total of 15 feet (4.5 meters), turning 120
degrees and then backing up 8 feet (2.5 meters) to position
itself beside its first science target -- a scour mark left
behind by the rover's descent engine.
Most of Curiosity's drive time was spent taking pictures,
including the first images of the rover's tread marks in the
"It couldn't be more important. We built a rover, so unless
the rover roves, we really haven't accomplished anything,"
project manager Pete Theisinger, with NASA's Jet Propulsion
Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., told reporters during a press
Engineers saw no problems during Curiosity's test drive,
clearing the way for a first round of analysis of rock blasted
clean by the rover's landing system engine.
Curiosity is due to make a longer drive in about a week to a
place where three different types of terrain come together.
"The soil is firm, great for mobility," said lead rover
planner Matt Heverly. "We should have smooth sailing ahead of
(Editing by Kevin Gray)