American University space policy professor Howard McCurdy said Curiosity is currently in a transition, caught between the viral landing and the scientific payoff expected at Mount Sharp.
"It is interesting, but slow," he said in an email. "I expect public interest will rise as the rover gets closer to its destination."
Curiosity's prime mission lasts two years, but NASA expects the plutonium-powered rover to live far longer. A priority for its human handlers is to learn to operate it more efficiently so that it becomes second nature. Before heading to Mount Sharp, engineers plan a software update to Curiosity's computers to fix remaining bugs.
"We'll need to be pretty careful," project manager Richard Cook said of the upcoming drive. "We may find terrain that we're not comfortable driving in and we'll have to spend time driving around stuff."
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