Curious about Curiosity?

Here’s the last few news reports:

August 21:

NASA’s Curiosity Studies Mars Surroundings, Nears Drive

NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity has been investigating the Martian weather around it and the soil beneath it, as its controllers prepare for the car-size vehicle’s first drive on Mars.

The rover’s weather station, provided by Spain, checks air temperature, ground temperature, air pressure, wind and other variables every hour at the landing site in Gale Crater. On a typical Martian day, or “sol,” based on measurements so far in the two-week old mission, air temperatures swing from 28 degrees to minus 103 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 2 to minus 75 Celsius). Ground temperatures change even more between afternoon and pre-dawn morning, from 37 degrees to minus 132 degrees Fahrenheit (3 to minus 91 Celsius).

“We will learn about changes from day to day and season to season,” said Javier G√≥mez-Elvira of the Centro de Astrobiolog√≠a, Madrid, Spain, principal investigator for the suite of weather sensors called the Rover Environmental Monitoring Station (REMS).

Within a week or so, daily Mars weather reports from Curiosity will become available at: http://cab.inta-csic.es/rems/marsweather.html or bit.ly/RzQe6p .

One of the two sets of REMS wind sensors is not providing data. “One possibility is that pebbles lofted during the landing hit the delicate circuit boards on one of the two REMS booms,” said Curiosity Deputy Project Scientist Ashwin Vasavada of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif. “We will have to be more clever about using the remaining wind sensor to get wind speed and direction.”

An instrument provided by Russia is checking for water bound into minerals in the top three feet (one meter) of soil beneath the rover. It employs a technology that is used in oil prospecting on Earth, but had never before been sent to another planet.

“Curiosity has begun shooting neutrons into the ground,” said Igor Mitrofanov of Space Research Institute, Moscow, principal investigator for this instrument, called the Dynamic Albedo of Neutrons, or DAN. “We measure the amount of hydrogen in the soil by observing how the neutrons are scattered, and hydrogen on Mars is an indicator of water.”

The most likely hydrogen to be found in shallow ground of Gale Crater, near the Martian equator, is in hydrated minerals. These are minerals with water molecules, or related ions, bound into the crystalline structure of rocks. They can tenaciously retain water from a wetter past after all free water has gone.

Curiosity will soon have a different patch of ground beneath it. Today, the six-wheeled rover wiggled its four corner wheels side to side for the first time on Mars, as a test of the steering actuators on those wheels. This was critical preparation for Curiosity’s first drive on Mars.

“Late tonight, we plan to send Curiosity the commands for doing our first drive tomorrow,” said Curiosity Mission Manager Michael Watkins of JPL.

August 22:

NASA Mars Rover Begins Driving at Bradbury Landing

NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity has begun driving from its landing site, which scientists announced today they have named for the late author Ray Bradbury.

Making its first movement on the Martian surface, Curiosity’s drive combined forward, turn and reverse segments. This placed the rover roughly 20 feet (6 meters) from the spot where it landed 16 days ago.

NASA has approved the Curiosity science team’s choice to name the landing ground for the influential author, who was born 92 years ago today and died this year. The location where Curiosity touched down is now called Bradbury Landing.

“This was not a difficult choice for the science team,” said Michael Meyer, NASA program scientist for Curiosity. “Many of us and millions of other readers were inspired in our lives by stories Ray Bradbury wrote to dream of the possibility of life on Mars.”

Today’s drive confirmed the health of Curiosity’s mobility system and produced the rover’s first wheel tracks on Mars, documented in images taken after the drive. During a news conference today at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., the mission’s lead rover driver, Matt Heverly, showed an animation derived from visualization software used for planning the first drive.

“We have a fully functioning mobility system with lots of amazing exploration ahead,” Heverly said.

Curiosity will spend several more days of working beside Bradbury Landing, performing instrument checks and studying the surroundings, before embarking toward its first driving destination approximately 1,300 feet (400 meters) to the east-southeast.

“Curiosity is a much more complex vehicle than earlier Mars rovers. The testing and characterization activities during the initial weeks of the mission lay important groundwork for operating our precious national resource with appropriate care,” said Curiosity Project Manager Pete Theisinger of JPL. “Sixteen days in, we are making excellent progress.”

The science team has begun pointing instruments on the rover’s mast for investigating specific targets of interest near and far. The Chemistry and Camera (ChemCam) instrument used a laser and spectrometers this week to examine the composition of rocks exposed when the spacecraft’s landing engines blew away several inches of overlying material.

The instrument’s principal investigator, Roger Weins of Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico, reported that measurements made on the rocks in this scoured-out feature called Goulburn suggest a basaltic composition. “These may be pieces of basalt within a sedimentary deposit,” Weins said.

Curiosity began a two-year prime mission on Mars when the Mars Science Laboratory spacecraft delivered the car-size rover to its landing target inside Gale Crater on Aug. 5 PDT (Aug. 6 EDT). The mission will use 10 science instruments on the rover to assess whether the area has ever offered environmental conditions favorable for microbial life.

In a career spanning more than 70 years, Ray Bradbury inspired generations of readers to dream, think and create. A prolific author of hundreds of short stories and nearly 50 books, as well as numerous poems, essays, operas, plays, teleplays and screenplays, Bradbury was one of the most celebrated writers of our time.

His groundbreaking works include “Fahrenheit 451,” “The Martian Chronicles,” “The Illustrated Man,” “Dandelion Wine,” and “Something Wicked This Way Comes.” He wrote the screenplay for John Huston’s classic film adaptation of “Moby Dick,” and was nominated for an Academy Award. He adapted 65 of his stories for television’s The Ray Bradbury Theater, and won an Emmy for his teleplay of “The Halloween Tree.”

Upcoming:

NASA Announces Aug. 27 Mars News Conference

NASA will hold a televised news conference at 2 p.m. PDT (5 p.m.EDT), Monday, Aug. 27, at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., about the activities of its Curiosity rover mission on Mars. The event will feature new images, an update of the rover’s progress, and a special greeting by NASA Administrator Charles Bolden.

Televised news conferences are broadcast live on NASA TV and online at: http://www.nasa.gov/ and http://www.ustream.tv/nasajpl

The Mars Curiosity team is operating on Mars time. The Martian day is about 40 minutes longer than an Earth day. Media events are scheduled based on team availability and are subject to change. Updates of event times will be posted at:

http://go.nasa.gov/curiositytelecon

For information about NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory mission, including the Curiosity rover, visit: http://www.nasa.gov/msl and http://mars.jpl.nasa.gov/msl

Comments

  1. #1 Alt
    United States
    September 4, 2012

    It’s great to see Curiosity making so much head way these day. It seems like every time I get an update from Mars, curiosity is utilizing more and more of its, what seems like, endless features. Please feel free to check out my blog if you want:
    http://thoughtsonmars.wordpress.com/