30 January 2014 – At the end of the Sol 528 drive, the rover “scuffed” the dune with its right front wheel, then backed away and took images of the scuff. These images were used to confirm that the arm instruments can be placed in the scuff, to examine the freshly-exposed material within the dune. So no rover motion is required for contact science, and ChemCam and Mastcam observations of the scuff and vicinity were added to the Sol 529 plan. Another set of Mastcam and MAHLI images of the wheels are also planned, along with more reprocessing of CheMin data. After sunset, Mastcam will take a picture of Earth, currently an “evening star” in Mars’ sky.
29 January 2014 – In order to learn more about the sand dune in Dingo Gap, the rover will be commanded to drive up to it on Sol 528. Mobility tests on terrestrial sand dunes show that MSL can climb dunes, but we don’t yet know that the feature in front of MSL is sandy throughout. Opportunity got stuck in Purgatory Dune for a few weeks, in part because it contained more fine grained dust than typical terrestrial dunes. So MSL will study the interior structure of the Martian dune before driving over it. There is also a concern that Dingo Gap is deep enough that radio communications directly to/from Earth via the high gain antenna may be affected, so post-drive images looking over the dune into the gap are planned to better assess the terrain.
28 January 2014 – MSL drove about 15 meters toward Dingo Gap and returned post-drive images that were used to plan ChemCam RMI and Mastcam images from the new location. The Sol 527 plan also includes another drive toward Dingo Gap and reprocessing of some CheMin data. The post-drive data will be used to determine which way to go on Sol 528, in particular whether to drive over the dune in the gap.
27 January 2014 – The weekend activities went well, and lots of post-drive images were received, allowing planning of multiple arm activities on Sol 526. MAHLI and APXS observations of a rock named Reedy are planned, as well as MAHLI images of REMS hardware and the wheels. Then a drive of about 15 meters is planned, toward the chute that is now named Dingo Gap. Images of Dingo Gap taken after the drive will be used to determine whether the rover should continue in this direction.
25 January 2014 – Late yesterday, the strategic drive team decided that it would be best to head west, through the chute, because the terrain beyond appears safer for driving. So the Sol 522 drive (toward the south) was pulled from the plan and the rover stayed put. The plan for the weekend includes targeted remote sensing and contact science on Sol 523, wheel imaging and a ~24 meter drive on Sol 524, and a SAM measurement of the atmospheric composition on Sol 525. It was a busy day for me as MAHLI/MARDI uplink lead, as we considered various MAHLI activities and tried to fit them into the plan. We ended up with MAHLI images and an APXS measurement on a rock dubbed “King” as well as the usual post-drive MAHLI image from the stowed position.
The smaller rover Opportunity landed on Mars 10 years ago, and is still operating, gathering excellent scientific data. Because I was scheduled on MSL operations today, I was not able to call in to the Opportunity SOWG meeting today. But I saw a lot of good email and web traffic on the subject and celebrated with the Opportunity team members that were also working MSL operations. What an incredible mission!
24 January 2014 – MAHLI images of the wheels were successfully acquired on Sol 521, followed by an 11-meter drive. We used the images taken after the drive to target ChemCam and Mastcam observations for Sol 522, and planned a MAHLI stowed image before the next drive. The Sol 522 drive distance is expected to be about 22 meters, and will be followed by the usual imaging of the new location to enable planning 3 sols tomorrow morning.
23 January 2014 – After confirming that the terrain ahead was suitable for acquiring another full set of wheel images, the Sol 521 plan focused on MAHLI and MARDI images of the wheels separated by 31 cm bumps. These images have been useful in evaluating wheel wear as the rover traverses rocky terrain. MARDI images are now taken at each step to better characterize the terrain at millimeter scales. So it was a relatively busy day for me as MAHLI/MARDI uplink lead. By reducing the number of wheel imaging locations from 6 to 5, we were able to squeeze a 10-meter drive into the plan as well. Fortunately, we have been driving across more benign terrain this week, and I’m expecting that this new set of wheel images will show minimal additional damage.
22 January 2014 – Another drive was planned on Monday, despite the federal holiday, and it went well. The images taken after that drive were used to plan targeted remote sensing (Mastcam and ChemCam) on rocks dubbed Doran and Togo on Sol 520. Then another drive was planned to get the rover in position for another set of wheel images, which are planned every time the rover has driven 100 meters.
17 January 2014 – The drive planned for Sol 514 did not complete due to a sequencing error, so the error was corrected and successfully implemented on Sol 515. The post-drive data look good, so targeted remote sensing contact science is planned for Sol 516, including ChemCam, Mastcam, APXS and MAHLI observations of a rock dubbed Oscar. More targeted remote sensing is planned for Sol 517, then another drive (about 16 meters) with wheel imaging on Sol 518. The rover will be busy again this weekend!
15 January 2014 – Today was a busy planning day, as we put a lot of activities into the Sol 514 plan. We used the data acquired after the “bump” on Sol 513 to pick a couple of interesting nearby rocks for thorough ChemCam and Mastcam observations. Then one last set of MAHLI images of the wheels will be taken before the rover drives about 30 meters toward the SSW. Today was my last day as SOWG Chair this month, and I’m happy about the way it went.