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NASA's Curiosity Mars rover climbed a hill Thursday to approach an alternative site for investigating a geological boundary, after a comparable site proved hard to reach.

The drive of about 72 feet (22 meters) up slopes as steep as 21 degrees brought Curiosity close to a target area where two distinctive types of bedrock meet. The rover science team wants to examine an outcrop that contains the contact between the pale rock unit the mission analyzed lower on Mount Sharp and a darker, bedded rock unit that the mission has not yet examined up close.

Two weeks ago, Curiosity was headed for a comparable geological contact farther south. Foiled by slippery slopes on the way there, the team rerouted the vehicle and chose a westward path.The mission's strategic planning keeps multiple route options open to deal with such situations.

"Mars can be very deceptive," said Chris Roumeliotis, Curiosity's lead rover driver at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California. "We knew that polygonal sand ripples have caused Curiosity a lot of drive slip in the past, but there appeared to be terrain with rockier, more consolidated characteristics directly adjacent to these ripples. So we drove around the sand ripples onto what we expected to be firmer terrain that would give Curiosity better traction. Unfortunately, this terrain turned out to be unconsolidated material too, which definitely surprised us and Curiosity."

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