Ten months after touching down on Mars, NASA's Curiosity rover is finally heading toward the primary target of its two-year mission -- Mount Sharp, a three-mile-high mound of layered rock rising from the floor of the Gale Crater landing site.
Tantalizing mineral maps compiled by orbiting satellites provide strong hints that Mars' changing environment is recorded in Mount Sharp's rocks.
Getting there will take months, even by the most direct route and with minimal stops for other scientific studies along the way.
PHOTOS: Curiosity Drills Hole Into Mars Rock
The base of the mountain is about five miles from Curiosity's present position in Yellowknife Bay, a low-lying area scientists wanted to study first to determine if it had the chemical ingredients for life.
The answer -- a resounding yes -- was in Curiosity's first drill sample. Last month, the rover bore into a second ancient mudstone located about nine feet away from its first target. Results of that analysis are pending.
"They're still working on those results, but what they did try to do ... was to get a feel for the variability of the mineralogy and chemistry by drilling into a spot nearby that looked a little bit different," deputy project scientist Joy Crisp, with NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., told Discovery News.