30 June 2014 – Last weekend, MSL successfully backed out of the sandy ripple, pausing to image her tracks. So more driving toward Mt. Sharp is planned for this week. Because of the phasing between Earth and Mars time, we are planning rapid-traverse sols, in which the entire uplink process is completed in only 7 hours. The Sol 675 data were not received until almost 13:00 Pacific time, as expected. Therefore, the uplink team had to work later than usual to plan a ChemCam and Mastcam observation of a ripple target named Radcliff, and — more importantly — another drive.
28 June 2014 – I’m MAHLI/MARDI uplink lead today, planning Sols 673-675 to get MSL through the weekend. It turned out to be a busy day, as the Sol 672 did not complete nominally. A 101-meter drive was planned, but after traversing 82 meters the rover stopped because it determined that it was slipping too much. As the vehicle was crossing some sandy ripples, the wheels encountered soft sand and the rover automatically detected that progress was not being made at the expected rate, and correctly halted the drive. Coincidentally, the rover stopped right on the landing ellipse, a major mission milestone! The vehicle was designed to be able to traverse far enough to drive out of the region defined by the uncertainty in the landing location, and has now achieved that laudable goal.
We had been planning to acquire a full set of wheel images on Sol 673, but the current rover location is not suitable for this activity, so we decided to plan contact science instead. MAHLI images of a target Sourdough will be taken before placing the APXS on it and integrating overnight, in parallel with SAM scrubber cleaning. On Sol 674, the rover will drive out of the ripple, then turn around to get a better look at the location it is at now. The plan for the final sol (675) is dominated by cleaning of SAM’s getter and trap.
24 June 2014 – After a 107 m drive on sol 670, we are now in Shoshone quad, and just 160 m from the edge of the landing ellipse! The sol 671 plan is a lot like the sol 670 plan, with a 3 hour drive as the main activity. These long drives often use visual odometry, where the rover takes pictures along the way to monitor how the drive is going and avoid obstacles. This is a great capability, allowing us to drive farther than we could otherwise, but a side effect is that it produces a lot of data. The result: less data available for science observations.
All of which is to say that today was another data-constrained sol. There’s always a way to squeeze some science in though! Today’s plan has a color stereo image of a rock dubbed Lost Burro, a ChemCam passive observation of the sky, and a NavCam movie of the sky looking for clouds. (Passive means that we don’t fire the laser, we just passively collect the spectrum of the target.) We also managed to squeeze a ChemCam measurement of our titanium calibration target and a MAHLI end-of-drive stowed image between the orbiter communication passes. And of course, we always do routine environmental monitoring with RAD, REMS, and DAN. Plus, after each drive we take clast survey images of the ground with Mastcam. Not bad for a data-constrained sol!
Ryan Anderson is a member of the ChemCam team and the current Shoemaker Postdoctoral fellow at the U.S. Geological Survey in Flagstaff, AZ. Ryan also writes for the American Geophysical Union’s blogosphere in The Martian Chronicles.
14 May 2014 – Apologies for not blogging more frequently–my personal life has become more exciting and I’m going to have to take a break from this blog, at least for the next few months. So this will be my last blog for a while.
MSL is completing the intensive investigation of The Kimberley, having successfully drilled, acquired and dropped samples into CheMin and SAM. MAHLI has taken lots of excellent images of the drill hole, including some during the night with LEDs on, nicely showing the ChemCam LIBS spots. Extra sample material is stored in CHIMRA to allow future analyses if desired. The initial analysis of this new sample by Chemin is ongoing, requiring repeated overnight integration to build up high-quality data.
6 May 2014 – I was SOWG Chair early last week, when we planned the mini drill hole. This complex operation required many hours for the tactical team to plan and review, so I was pretty exhausted when we were done. I’ve also had a lot of other business and personal work to do, so it’s been difficult for me to blog lately. The big news today is that the full drill hole was successfully completed! The next steps will be to drop of samples of the new material to CheMin and SAM.
25 April 2014 – The data returned from Sol 610 showed that the rover is stable, so the weekend plan includes lots of arm activities. On Sol 612, APXS and MAHLI will study the planned drill target before the Dust Removal Tool (DRT) brushes it off. Then MAHLI will image the brushed area before the APXS is placed on it for an overnight integration. On Sol 613, MAHLI will take another selfie of the rover (similar to this image), then pre-load the arm on the drill target. Sol 614 includes lots of remote sensing observations by ChemCam, Mastcam and Navcam. I wasn’t on shift today, but followed along because I’ll be SOWG Chair on Monday.
24 April 2014 – The rover bump went well, and the selected drill target is within reach. So the science team started planning various observations of the target, including MAHLI and APXS, to document its chemical composition and morphology before drilling. However, there were enough concerns about the rover slipping during arm activities that the MAHLI and APXS observations were removed from the plan. More data, needed to confirm that the rover is stable, are expected this afternoon. Hopefully, analysis of these data will show that it is safe to proceed with contact science.
23 April 2014 – The Sol 610 plan contains fairly simple, untargeted observations, including Mastcam and Navcam mosaics and a series of Navcam images of the western sky right after the sun sets behind Mt. Remarkable. Overnight, ChemCam will point at the dark sky and obtain calibration data, measuring thermal noise.