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Slow And Steady, NASA's Curiosity Mars Rover Creeps Along (VIDEO)

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Apr 01, 2013 05:07 PM EDT
This year's been a busy one for NASA's Curiosity rover, which first landed on Mars in August, 2012. (Photo : Reuters/NASA)

NASA's Curiosity rover has basically stayed in one spot for more than two months, traveled less than a 10th of the way to its primary goal and has used nearly a third of the mission's allotted two year timeframe, which is putting pressure on the mission team back on Earth to get the rover rolling.

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According to the journal Nature, it took NASA two months just to deploy the array of scientific instruments on the $2.5 billion rover.

But since a Martian year lasts close to twice as long as an Earth year, perhaps the Curiosity is just getting used to the slow pace of life on the Red Planet. The rover has only traveled 738 meters across the surface and is still about 10 kilometers away from Aeolis Mons, a 5km high mountain that's the rover's primary destination.

Not to say the rover hasn't been doing anything since it landed on the Martian surface in August 2012.

It has analyzed soil and air samples, taken photos and made some pretty amusing Twitter posts, among other things.

The Curiosity's photos were stitched together by a fan to provide a 4 billion pixel spectacular panorama of Mars.  

"We could certainly say we achieved a lot", said science-team member Laurie Leshin, a planetary geochemist at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New York, according to Nature. But if Curiosity were to die tomorrow, "none of us would be satisfied."

Thanks to the Mars solar conjunction - when the Earth, Sun and Mars align, blocking the path of communication between Mars and Earth when the three bodies align - the rover will stationary and unable to communicate with Earth for most of April. Several computer glitches have slowed the rover's progress as well.

The rover will wait out the conjunction where it has been since Jan. 23, near a rock nicknamed John Klein, where it is taking rock and dirt samples. After the Mars conjunction is over, the rover will take samples of John Klein rock once more, then hightail it at 100 meters a day towards Aeolis Mons, also known as Mount Sharp.

"There's general agreement that we have to get to the base of Mount Sharp before the primary mission ends, with a lot of time to spare," said Raymond Arvidson, a planetary geologist at Washington University in St Louis, Missouri.

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