22 April 2014
Sol 608 Planning: The drive and other activities planned for last weekend went well, and lots of nice images of the outcrop in front of the rover were received early Monday morning. While the strategic rover planners analyzed the data and began evaluating various candidate drill targets, the tactical team planned lots of ChemCam and Mastcam observations of the candidates. Later in the day, the rover planners and scientists discussed the drill options, and selected a flat outcrop about 4 meters away, shown in the upper right part of this image. The goal for Sol 609 will be to bump the rover toward this outcrop, into a position that will allow drilling into it.
Sol 609 Planning: I’m MAHLI/MARDI uplink lead today, planning Sol 609. After ChemCam observations of targets Jarrad and Cow Bore, the rover will take another set of MAHLI images of the wheels, then bump a couple meters to get into position for contact science and drilling. Planning is restricted, so we won’t receive the post-drive data until early Thursday. It was an easy planning day for me, as the end-of-drive MAHLI stowed image and MARDI twilight image have become routine.
21 April 2014 – I was scheduled as MAHLI/MARDI uplink lead last Friday, so I stayed an extra day in Pasadena after the MSL team meeting and worked at JPL. It’s always easier to work on tactical operations at JPL, and Friday was no exception as we planned contact science on the windblown soil in front of the rover. I spent some time with the rover planners laying out MAHLI images of the soil target that was also measured by APXS on Sol 605. Another drive toward potential drill targets was planned for Sol 606, followed by untargeted remote sensing on Sol 607.
18 April 2014 – Thursday was the last day of the MSL science team meeting, and the discussion shifted from science results to analysis of wheel wear, both on Mars and on Earth. The engineers at JPL have done a lot of testing in the Mars Yard and compared the results with the many images of the wheels on Mars. Although these images show that wheel wear continues, the damage is accumulating at a lower rate due to the changes in traverse planning that have been implemented in the past few months. Driving over rough terrain appears to be the most significant threat to the wheels, and efforts to recognize and avoid hazardous terrain using data returned by Mars orbiters have allowed safer drive paths to be chosen. It was clear that the engineers are not as concerned about wheel wear as they were last fall, and that they do not feel that wheel wear will limit the lifetime of rover mobility. This conclusion was based in part on tests in the JPL Mars Yard that showed that even very heavily damaged wheels performed well in climbing rocky and sandy slopes.
17 April 2014 – While most of the MSL science team met at Caltech to discuss recent results and plans for the near future, the tactical team planned a 65-meter drive toward the southeastern side of Mount Remarkable, near the site chosen for the next drilling campaign. The rover will pause in the middle of the drive to image the backup drill site, then acquire all the data needed to select contact science targets and bump to a drill site this weekend. Planning is restricted again, so untargeted science will be planned for Sol 604.
15 April 2014 – I’m attending a 3-day meeting of the full MSL science team, so I’m less focused on rover operations than usual this week. After lots of interesting discussion of scientific data and hypotheses today, we did spend some time discussing where to drill and acquire a rock sample. The choices have been narrowed down to two locations on the flank of the hill called Mount Remarkable (at upper left, here). The scientific advantages of the two sites were discussed, and there were no major differences identified. But getting to one of the sites would involve driving over rough, rocky terrain that might damage the wheels, so that site was not favored.
14 April 2014 – On April 14th, Mars made its closest approach to Earth this year. In addition, by chance, Earth’s moon is totally eclipsed on the same night, very close in the sky to similarly red Mars. What a beautiful sight! Mars’ proximity to Earth makes radio communications easier in general, but relay of data from MSL through the Mars orbiters to Earth is primarily constrained by the position of the orbiters in the sky over MSL. Communication from Earth to MSL is more affected by the Mars-Earth distance, but despite the close approach there was another problem sending commands to the rover last weekend, and therefore the planned contact science and drive did not occur.
12 April 2014 – It was a busy day for the tactical uplink team, planning 3 sols to get MSL through the weekend. I was MAHLI/MARDI uplink lead, and focused on MAHLI imaging of the ChemCam window to determine how much dust is on it. We’ve taken such an image before when the window was in shadow, and wanted to try again with the window illuminated. We also planned MAHLI images of hardware on the remote sensing mast, to see if there are any signs of cable/fiber wear. Lots of ChemCam and Mastcam targeted observations are planned for Sol 598, followed by APXS and MAHLI observations on the outcrop in front of the rover. Then the rover will drive about 9 meters toward better outcrops, to get into position for more contact science next week. Finally SAM preconditioning and other activities are planned overnight to prepare for the next sample analysis.
11 April 2014 – Unfortunately, the set of commands sent to the rover for Sol 596 were not received, so the rover correctly responded by executing the runout sequence that is appended to every day’s command bundle. After confirming that the rover is healthy, the tactical team sent an only slightly modified version of the Sol 596 plan to the rover for execution on Sol 597. Hopefully it will be received as usual, and the rover will drive toward the outcrops of interest.
10 April 2014 – The surface near the rover isn’t very interesting, so planning for Sol 596 focused on driving toward the outcrops up to 50 meters away. During the drive, the rover will stop and acquire DAN, Hazcam and MARDI data on the striated unit before moving on. So it was an only slightly busier day for me as MAHLI/MARDI uplink lead. After the drive, Navcam and Mastcam images will be taken to allow an approach to the outcrop on Sol 597.