Ryan’s Sol 986 Update: Finding a Path

15 May 2015 – We’ve been having trouble with the path we originally wanted to take through the sand toward the interesting geology at “Mt. Stimson”, so in today’s plan we are going to take a careful look around to identify better routes. Mastcam has a 13×3 mosaic in the direction we want to go, as well as a 5×3 mosaic of Mt. Stimson and a 2×2 mosaic to fill a gap in a previous mosaic.

While Mastcam tries to spot a path through the sand, ChemCam is busy testing out its new focusing software, which seems to be working well. ChemCam has an autofocus observation of a target called “Yellowjacket”, and a z-stack observation of the same target to compare the results.

After that, we have a short backwards drive to get us from our current highly tilted location to more level ground. After the drive, Navcam will provide a 360 degree view of our new location, and Mastcam will do a “clast survey” to document the sand and pebbles at our new location.

Finally, Mastcam has some night-time imaging of another Phobos eclipse.

Ryan Anderson is a planetary scientist and developer at the USGS Astrogeology Science Center and a member of the ChemCam team on MSL.

Dates of planned rover activities described in these reports are subject to change due to a variety of factors related to the Martian environment, communication relays and rover status.

Ken’s Sol 985 Update: High Tilt

14 May 2015 – Once again, excessive wheel slippage prevented MSL from driving as far as planned, so the tactical team decided to take a break from driving to allow various options to be studied in more detail. The rover is tilted 21 degrees, the highest tilt of the mission so far, on the flank of a small ridge. The vehicle is high enough on the ridge that the terrain to the southwest is visible in Sol 984 Navcam images, allowing more complete evaluation of a traverse in that direction.

The Sol 985 plan includes ChemCam observations of a nearby rock called “Una” to test the newly-installed ChemCam autofocus software. Of course we are hoping this test goes well and that ChemCam will return to more normal operations soon. Mastcam will also observe Una, as well as the ripples and small rocks near the rover, and outcrops toward the south. The usual atmospheric monitoring observations round out the plan.

Ken Herkenhoff is a ChemCam RMI specialist. An archive of Ken’s past updates can be read at http://astrogeology.usgs.gov/news/.

Dates of planned rover activities described in these reports are subject to change due to a variety of factors related to the Martian environment, communication relays and rover status.

Ken’s Sol 984 Update: Slippery Sand

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13 May 2015 – The MSL tactical team took a day off yesterday to allow Earth and Mars time to synch up; planning is no longer restricted and we will be working every day the rest of this week (including Saturday). Despite efforts to avoid sandy areas, the Sol 983 drive stopped short when the rover detected that it was slipping too much. So after taking some Mastcam images of the areas that are being considered for upcoming contact science, the rover will back up and drive around the sand and up onto a low ridge to the southwest of our current location. The slopes on the flank of the ridge are steeper than those that the rover has traversed before, but it will probably be easier to climb them than to drive across the sandy ripples. Overnight, CheMin will perform an instrument calibration activity.

Ken Herkenhoff is a ChemCam RMI specialist. An archive of Ken’s past updates can be read at http://astrogeology.usgs.gov/news/.

Dates of planned rover activities described in these reports are subject to change due to a variety of factors related to the Martian environment, communication relays and rover status.

Ken’s Sol 983 Update: More Sand Traps

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11 May 2015 – The Sol 981 drive got the rover around the troublesome ripples and to the desired location, which gave us a good view of the terrain ahead. Unfortunately, the images taken from the new location show more sandy ripples between the rover and the sharp transition between bright and dark rocks that we would would like to examine close up. So the plan for Sol 983 is to go around the ripples to the right and search for a safe path ahead. But first, ChemCam will test its new focusing software, using the RMI to find the best focus position for LIBS analyses of the onboard calibration targets. The biggest challenge for me as SOWG Chair today was prioritizing data for downlink, as the data volume expected via MRO is much less than usual. We will probably receive the images most urgently needed to plan the next drive, but not the results of the ChemCam software tests. This will delay the return of ChemCam to “normal” operations. But the near-term focus will likely be on driving, so there will be few opportunities for ChemCam observations anyway.

Ken Herkenhoff is a ChemCam RMI specialist. An archive of Ken’s past updates can be read at http://astrogeology.usgs.gov/news/.

Dates of planned rover activities described in these reports are subject to change due to a variety of factors related to the Martian environment, communication relays and rover status.

Ryan’s Sol 980-982 Update: Dodging Sand, Updating ChemCam

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08 May 2015 – The Sol 978 drive stopped after going only a couple meters instead of the expected ~19 meters because Curiosity detected that its wheels were slipping in the sand. The rover periodically takes pictures of its surroundings while driving to make sure that it is actually moving forward and its wheels are not just spinning in place. This was a lesson learned years ago when the Opportunity rover got itself stuck in a sand ripple by spinning its wheels. Curiosity currently is in no danger of getting stuck: in the weekend plan we will just back up slightly and drive around the worst of the sand.

On Sol 980, before we drive, ChemCam and Mastcam will analyze two targets, “Silver Valley” and “Snowslip” and Navcam will watch for clouds above Mt. Sharp. Then on sol 981, Mastcam will take some pictures of the crater rim and the sun to measure the amount of dust in the atmosphere. After that comes the drive and our standard post-drive images so we can see our new surroundings. Mastcam will also take a 7×2 mosaic of Logan Pass right after driving.

In the afternoon of Sol 981, ChemCam will turn on so that its software can be updated. I’ve really been looking forward to this update, which will allow ChemCam to automatically focus using its camera, bringing us back to almost-normal operations!

On sol 982 there won’t be much activity, just some maintenance activities for REMS.

Ryan Anderson is a planetary scientist and developer at the USGS Astrogeology Science Center and a member of the ChemCam team on MSL.

Dates of planned rover activities described in these reports are subject to change due to a variety of factors related to the Martian environment, communication relays and rover status.

Ryan’s Sol 978-979 Update: Jocko Chute

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06 May 2015 – The sol 976 drive was successful and we are close to “Jocko Chute” (our informal name for the saddle point west of Jocko Butte). In the sol 978 plan, we have a ChemCam LIBS observation of a patch of exposed bedrock called “Big Salmon”, followed by lots of Mastcam images. There is a 14×3 mosaic of some hills in the direction of our drive, some single frame high-resolution images of the targets “Silvertip”, “White_Coyote”, and part of the wall of “Logan Pass”. There is also a stereo Mastcam image of an outcrop called “White Horse” and a 4×2 mosaic of Jocko Butte.

Once all that is done, we will drive toward “Logan Pass” and do our standard post-drive imaging so we can see our new surroundings. On sol 979 ChemCam has a few calibration observations of targets on the rover, and then Mastcam has an overnight observation of Phobos as it is eclipsed by Mars. The idea of this observation is to take pictures of Phobos when it is illuminated by the sun, and then when it is illuminated just by light passing through Mars’ atmosphere, and compare them to figure out how much dust is in the atmosphere.

Ryan Anderson is a planetary scientist and developer at the USGS Astrogeology Science Center and a member of the ChemCam team on MSL.

Dates of planned rover activities described in these reports are subject to change due to a variety of factors related to the Martian environment, communication relays and rover status.

Ryan’s Sol 976-977 Update: Onward to Jocko Butte

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04 May 2015 – With our weekend contact science done, it’s time to hit the road again. The sol 976 plan includes some final Mastcam mosaics of the interesting outcrops that we have been studying, plus a Mastcam multispectral observation of the target “Albert” that ChemCam zapped over the weekend. After that, we will drive about 60 m, to a location west of “Jocko Butte”. After the drive we have Navcam imaging to allow us to choose targets near where we stop, as well as take pictures looking back from where we just were, to view the outcrops from a different angle. Overnight, the SAM instrument will measure the amount of noble gases in the atmosphere. On sol 977, ChemCam will do some “passive” (no laser) atmospheric observations, Navcam will watch for clouds over Mt. Sharp, and Mastcam has a small 1×4 mosaic.

Ryan Anderson is a planetary scientist and developer at the USGS Astrogeology Science Center and a member of the ChemCam team on MSL.

Dates of planned rover activities described in these reports are subject to change due to a variety of factors related to the Martian environment, communication relays and rover status.

Ken’s Sol 973-975 Update: Albert, Bigfork, and Charity

01 May 2015 – MSL is in a good position for contact science observations on an interesting outcrop of sedimentary rock, so the rover will be busy this weekend! We had to change the timing of the arm activities a bit to optimize the illumination of MAHLI targets, so it was a busy morning for me as SOWG Chair but I’m happy with the way the plan turned out. On Sol 973, ChemCam and Mastcam will observe nearby targets “Albert” and “Charity,” the RMI will image a distant target named “Empire,” and Navcam will search for clouds and dust devils. Overnight, CheMin will dump the remaining drill sample from one of its cells and measure the cell to confirm that the dump was successful. The arm will be deployed on Sol 974 and used to acquire a small MAHLI mosaic of “Bigfork,” then place the APXS on the same target for an overnight integration. The rover will wake up earlier than usual to measure the amount of dust in the atmosphere at 8 AM on Sol 975 by imaging the sun. Later that morning, ChemCam and Mastcam will perform more atmospheric measurements, and the 100-mm Mastcam will be used to image some distant rock targets. In the afternoon, the Dust Removal Tool (DRT) will be used to brush the dust off of “Albert” and take MAHLI images of the brushed spot. The APXS will then be placed on the DRT spot for an overnight integration.

Ken Herkenhoff is a ChemCam RMI specialist. An archive of Ken’s past updates can be read at http://astrogeology.usgs.gov/news/.

Dates of planned rover activities described in these reports are subject to change due to a variety of factors related to the Martian environment, communication relays and rover status.

Ken’s Sol 971-972 Update: Approaching Outcrop

25 April 2015 – This morning the MSL science team used all of the available data to decide whether to approach one of the nearby outcrops or drive away. Ultimately we decided to approach the closer of the large outcrops in front of the rover to set up for contact science this weekend. Planning is still “restricted,” so we planned two sols of activities today. ChemCam and Mastcam will observe a nearby rock named “Helena,” and the RMI will image a distant target dubbed “Lolo” on the morning of Sol 971. Then MAHLI will acquire a set of images of the wheels to track wear before the rover drives a few meters toward the selected outcrop. Overnight, CheMin will analyze the sample cell that was recently emptied to confirm that no material remains in the cell. On Sol 972, ChemCam will acquire calibration data, and Navcam will search for clouds. Finally, SAM will perform an instrument maintenance activity overnight.

Ken Herkenhoff is a ChemCam RMI specialist. An archive of Ken’s past updates can be read at http://astrogeology.usgs.gov/news/.

Dates of planned rover activities described in these reports are subject to change due to a variety of factors related to the Martian environment, communication relays and rover status.

Ryan’s Sol 969-970 Update: Studying Mt. Shields

27 April 2015 – Our drive on sol 967 covered almost 90 meters, putting us in front of some interesting stratigraphy at “Mt. Shields”, an outcrop along our drive down “Logan’s Run”. In the sol 969-970 plan, we have lots of Mastcam and ChemCam studying the outcrop. On sol 969, Mastcam has a 24×2 stereo mosaic and a 6×3 stereo mosaic of parts of Mt. Shields. Then, on sol 970, ChemCam has a bunch of standalone RMI “z-stacks” of targets “Flathead”, “Fern”, “Ginsight”, and “High_Park”. A z-stack is when we take a bunch of measurements at different focus positions. This allows us to merge multiple images to make sure the entire field of view is in focus. ChemCam also has a LIBS measurement of “Hungry_Horse”, which is accompanied by a Mastcam image of the same target. Finally, Mastcam will attempt to take some nighttime images of an eclipse of Mars’ moon Phobos, which can be used to infer how the amount of dust in the martian atmosphere varies with altitude.

Ryan Anderson is a planetary scientist and developer at the USGS Astrogeology Science Center and a member of the ChemCam team on MSL.

Dates of planned rover activities described in these reports are subject to change due to a variety of factors related to the Martian environment, communication relays and rover status.

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