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NASA's Mars rover Curiosity drove 83 feet eastward during the 102nd Martian day, or sol, of the mission (Nov. 18, 2012), and used its left navigation camera to record this view ahead at the end of the drive.
NASA/JPL-Caltech
NASA's Mars rover Curiosity drove 83 feet eastward during the 102nd Martian day, or sol, of the mission (Nov. 18, 2012), and used its left navigation camera to record this view ahead at the end of the drive.
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updated 11/22/2012 10:42:44 AM ET 2012-11-22T15:42:44

NASA's Mars rover Curiosity has some plans this Thanksgiving, and they don't involve watching football in a food-coma stupor.

The 1-ton Curiosity rover will spend the holiday scouting out possible routes and target rocks for its first-ever drilling activity, NASA officials wrote in a mission update Tuesday (Nov. 20). The reconnaissance work follows a lengthy drive to an overlook the rover team has dubbed "Point Lake."

"Thanksgiving isn't so different on Mars. I had a long drive & plan to take photos. No pie, though," the Curiosity team said via the rover's official Twitter feed, @MarsCuriosity.

After sitting still for about six weeks to test out its soil-scooping gear for the first time, the rover made a short drive on Friday (Nov. 16), chugging 6.2 feet (1.9 meters) to get within robotic-arm's reach of a stone called "Rocknest 3," NASA officials said. [ Photos: Curiosity's Latest Martian Views ]

On Sunday (Nov. 18), Curiosity investigated the rock's composition using its Alpha Particle X-Ray Spectrometer instrument, then stowed its 7-foot (2.1 m) arm and drove 83 feet (25 m) east toward Point Lake.

"We have done touches before, and we've done goes before, but this is our first 'touch-and-go' on the same day," Curiosity mission manager Michael Watkins, of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., said in a statement. "It is a good sign that the rover team is getting comfortable with more complex operational planning, which will serve us well in the weeks ahead."

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At Point Lake, the rover team will use the main camera on Curiosity's head-like mast to help plan out the rover's initial rock-drilling activity. Curiosity's drill can bore 1 inch (2.5 centimeters) into rock, deeper than any other planetary explorer has been able to go.

Curiosity landed inside Mars' huge Gale Crater on Aug. 5, kicking off a two-year mission to determine if the Red Planet has ever been able to support microbial life. The $2.5 billion robot carries 10 different science instruments and 17 cameras to aid it in its quest.

Curiosity's heart is an instrument called Sample Analysis at Mars, or SAM, which takes up more than half its scientific payload by weight. SAM can identify organic compounds, the carbon-containing building blocks of life as we know it.

SAM got its first taste of Martian soil just this month, but the instrument has apparently already made a big discovery. Curiosity chief scientist John Grotzinger, a geologist at Caltech in Pasadena, told NPR that the find "is gonna be one for the history books."

The Curiosity team is still studying SAM's data to be sure of the results, Grotzinger added. Researchers plan to announce the discovery at the fall meeting of the American Geophysical Union, which runs from Dec. 3 to Dec. 7 in San Francisco.

While Curiosity won't be eating any turkey today, the three humans currently living off Earth certainly will. NASA astronaut Kevin Ford and Russian cosmonauts Oleg Novitskiy and Evgeny Tarelkin, the crewmembers of the International Space Station's Expedition 34 mission, get the day off and will celebrate with a Thanksgiving feast.

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Photos: Month in Space: January 2014

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  1. Southern stargazing

    Stars, galaxies and nebulas dot the skies over the European Southern Observatory's La Silla Paranal Observatory in Chile, in a picture released on Jan. 7. This image also shows three of the four movable units that feed light into the Very Large Telescope Interferometer, the world's most advanced optical instrument. Combining to form one larger telescope, they are greater than the sum of their parts: They reveal details that would otherwise be visible only through a telescope as large as the distance between them. (Y. Beletsky / ESO) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. A balloon's view

    Cameras captured the Grandville High School RoboDawgs' balloon floating through Earth's upper atmosphere during its ascent on Dec. 28, 2013. The Grandville RoboDawgs’ first winter balloon launch reached an estimated altitude of 130,000 feet, or about 25 miles, according to coaches Mike Evele and Doug Hepfer. It skyrocketed past the team’s previous 100,000-feet record set in June. The RoboDawgs started with just one robotics team in 1998, but they've grown to support more than 30 teams at public schools in Grandville, Mich. (Kyle Moroney / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Spacemen at work

    Russian cosmonauts Oleg Kotov, right, and Sergey Ryazanskiy perform maintenance on the International Space Station on Jan. 27. During the six-hour, eight-minute spacewalk, Kotov and Ryazanskiy completed the installation of a pair of high-fidelity cameras that experienced connectivity issues during a Dec. 27 spacewalk. The cosmonauts also retrieved scientific gear outside the station's Russian segment. (NASA) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Special delivery

    The International Space Station's Canadian-built robotic arm moves toward Orbital Sciences Corp.'s Cygnus autonomous cargo craft as it approaches the station for a Jan. 12 delivery. The mountains below are the southwestern Alps. (NASA) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Accidental art

    A piece of art? A time-lapse photo? A flickering light show? At first glance, this image looks nothing like the images we're used to seeing from the Hubble Space Telescope. But it's a genuine Hubble frame that was released on Jan. 27. Hubble's team suspects that the telescope's Fine Guidance System locked onto a bad guide star, potentially a double star or binary. This caused an error in the tracking system, resulting in a remarkable picture of brightly colored stellar streaks. The prominent red streaks are from stars in the globular cluster NGC 288. (NASA / ESA) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Supersonic test flight

    A camera looking back over Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo's fuselage shows the rocket burn with a Mojave Desert vista in the background during a test flight of the rocket plane on Jan. 10. Cameras were mounted on the exterior of SpaceShipTwo as well as its carrier airplane, WhiteKnightTwo, to monitor the rocket engine's performance. The test was aimed at setting the stage for honest-to-goodness flights into outer space later this year, and eventual commercial space tours.

    More about SpaceShipTwo on PhotoBlog (Virgin Galactic) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Red lagoon

    The VLT Survey Telescope at the European Southern Observatory's Paranal Observatory in Chile captured this richly detailed new image of the Lagoon Nebula, released on Jan. 22. This giant cloud of gas and dust is creating intensely bright young stars, and is home to young stellar clusters. This image is a tiny part of just one of 11 public surveys of the sky now in progress using ESO telescopes. (ESO/VPHAS team) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Fire on the mountain

    This image provided by NASA shows a satellite view of smoke from the Colby Fire, taken by the Multi-angle Imaging SpectroRadiometer aboard NASA's Terra spacecraft as it passed over Southern California on Jan. 16. The fire burned more than 1,863 acres and forced the evacuation of 3,700 people. (NASA via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Where stars are born

    An image captured by NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope shows the Orion Nebula, an immense stellar nursery some 1,500 light-years away. This false-color infrared view, released on Jan. 15, spans about 40 light-years across the region. The brightest portion of the nebula is centered on Orion's young, massive, hot stars, known as the Trapezium Cluster. But Spitzer also can detect stars still in the process of formation, seen here in red hues. (NASA / JPL-Caltech) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Cygnus takes flight

    Orbital Sciences Corp.'s Antares rocket rises from NASA's Wallops Flight Facility on Wallops Island, Va, on Jan. 9. The rocket sent Orbital's Cygnus cargo capsule on its first official resupply mission to the International Space Station. (Chris Perry / NASA) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. A long, long time ago...

    This long-exposure picture from the Hubble Space Telescope, released Jan. 8, is the deepest image ever made of any cluster of galaxies. The cluster known as Abell 2744 appears in the foreground. It contains several hundred galaxies as they looked 3.5 billion years ago. Abell 2744 acts as a gravitational lens to warp space, brightening and magnifying images of nearly 3,000 distant background galaxies. The more distant galaxies appear as they did more than 12 billion years ago, not long after the Big Bang. (NASA / NASA via AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. Frosty halo

    Sun dogs are bright spots that appear in the sky around the sun when light is refracted through ice crystals in the atmosphere. These sun dogs appeared on Jan. 5 amid brutally cold temperatures along Highway 83, north of Bismarck, N.D. The temperature was about 22 degrees below zero Fahrenheit, with a 50-below-zero wind chill.

    Slideshow: The Year in Space (Brian Peterson / The Bismarck Tribune via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
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