27 November 2013 – There was some concern about tears in the rover wheels, but today we got the go-ahead to drive, with no restrictions on distance or drive mode. The tears in the wheels were expected based on testing, and the wheels are designed to survive such damage without affecting mobility. We are planning 3 sols today to get the rover through the weekend, so it has been a busy day for me as SOWG Chair. On the first sol, MAHLI imaging of the wheels (to monitor the tearing) will be followed by targeted ChemCam and Mastcam observations. The plan for the second sol is dominated by a long drive, including AutoNav. Then we are planning some untargeted remote science on the third sol.
26 November 2013 – MSL launched from Florida two years ago today–I was pretty nervous that day, but the mission has obviously gone extremely well! Planning is restricted this week (results of the drive planned for Sol 465 will not arrive until tonight), so we are planning 3 sols of untargeted remote sensing to get the rover through the Thanksgiving holiday. We crammed a lot of science into the 3-sol plan, including a SAM atmospheric measurement, another CheMin analysis of the drill sample, and several ChemCam and Mastcam observations of the sky and distant targets. We also took this opportunity to perform some instrument maintenance activities. So far, planning is going very smoothly!
25 November 2013 – I’m SOWG Chair again today, planning Sol 465, which includes the first drive since the electrical issue over a week ago. The change in power bus voltage appears to have been caused by an electrical short in the Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generator (RTG), the nuclear power source for the rover. This type of intermittent short has been seen in similar RTGs, including the one on the Cassini spacecraft, which has been orbiting Saturn for years. The rover electronics are designed to operate at variable power supply voltages, so this is not a major problem. In fact, the voltage returned to the normal level late last week, so we are ready to drive again. After some targeted ChemCam and Mastcam observations, a 64-meter drive is planned.
Looking for some cool new apps for looking at images from Mars? Check out these two:
Midnight Planets – Midnight Planets is Midnight Martian’s ongoing space visualization project. The first release focuses on the Mars rovers Curiosity, Opportunity and Spirit. Available only Mac devices.
Mars Images – Mars Images lets you browse the latest images from the Spirit, Opportunity and Curiosity Mars rovers. Scroll through the thumbnails of the latest downlink from Mars and view any image in fullscreen mode. Check out Opportunity’s movements in her drive maps and view the stereo images in 3D with red-blue glasses. Send interesting images to your family and friends! (Mac users click here; Android users click here.)
22 November 2013 – MSL science planning has resumed! Today we are planning 3 sols, with the focus on dropping more of the drill sample into 4 of SAM’s cups, for future analysis. While the arm is out, we’ll take MAHLI images of the rover wheels and a Mastcam image of the sample seive, for engineering assessment. These arm activities will take 2 sols to complete, so the plan is pretty full. I’m scheduled to support ChemCam planning in the Science Theme Groups today, but because the plan is already so complex we couldn’t add any ChemCam observations. Still, it’s good be planning science activities again!
12 November 2013 – I’m SOWG Chair today, but focused on tomorrow’s plan because Sol 451 is dedicated to recovering from last week’s software anomaly. So far, the recovery is going well and we are planning to resume normal science operations on Sol 452. We have received lots of data acquired during the Cooperstown contact science campaign and are happy with the results.
7 November 2013 – There are no science observations planned this week while the rover flight software is upgraded. This upgrade was planned well in advance, and if all goes well science and drive planning will resume on Monday.
1 November 2013 – Planning started at 6:30 this morning to allow enough time to plan 3 sols before we have to send the command sequences to the rover by 19:00 this evening. The science theme groups requested lots of good observations, expecting that they wouldn’t all fit into the plan. It was therefore a hectic day, but all of the science observations made it into the plan! After taking lots of ChemCam and Mastcam data, the arm will be deployed to acquire MAHLI images and elemental chemical data using APXS. On the last sol, the arm will be stowed in preparation for an upgrade of flight software that will take all next week.
31 October 2013 – The rover is very close to a low scarp that is the target for contact science this weekend. The Sol 440 plan includes a bunch of targeted ChemCam and Mastcam observations, followed by a short drive (or “bump”) to the low scarp dubbed “Cooperstown.” The planning schedule is tight, so we started at 7 AM this morning to give us time to check all the command sequences before they have to be sent to the rover this evening. I’m SOWG Chair today and tomorrow. If the Sol 440 drive goes well, we will be planning lots of remote sensing and contact science for the weekend.
ChemCam team members love speaking with the public about ChemCam, MSL, and Mars. Here’s an upcoming event:
Dr. Horton Newsom will present “Roving Mars with Curiosity” on November 14 at the New Mexico Museum of Natural History. The presentation begins at 7:30 PM. For more info, please visit http://www.nmnaturalhistory.org/lecture-roving-mars-with-curiosity.html.