Lauren’s Sol 876 Update: Exciting New Software

22 January 2015 – The flight software transition is going well, and Curiosity is doing a test run of the new version. Both the prime and backup rover computers are on track to commit to the upgrade by this weekend. However, this means that it’s a pretty quiet week in terms of science operations. In the meantime, the team is focused on all of the new MAHLI images that we’ve received of the latest drill hole and the surrounding rocks that were broken during drilling.

Speaking of new software, we’re looking forward to testing out the new OnSight software developed by a JPL team in collaboration with Microsoft. The software uses holographic computing, and will allow scientists to study Curiosity’s worksite from a first-person view. It sounds like this will provide a great new perspective and will be very useful for future planning! For more information on OnSight, check out the recent press release.

Lauren Edgar is a Research Geologist at the USGS Astrogeology Science Center and a member of MSL science team.

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.

Meet ChemCam’s Mars One Mission Candidate

Zachary Gallegos, a University of New Mexico grad student and Lunar & Planetary Institute Lunar Exploration Intern Program alum, researches future Mars landing sites as well as impact-induced hydrothermal analogue materials. Using images from an analogue study site and analyses of the site materials, he composed a Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) rover simulation in which MSL team members used ChemCam, CheMin, and APXS data to solve the geologic puzzles of the study site. This data is also being used to verify calibration of the ChemCam instrument (publications in progress, summer 2015).

Zachary is about to enter the third round of eliminations for the Mars One manned mission to Mars. In an original pool of over 202,000 applicants, he is now among the top 660 astronaut candidates still in the running.

In addition to his science and exploration pursuits, Zachary also enjoys playing the guitar and singing. You can listen to a track of him singing Elton John’s “Rocket Man” here.

Ken’s Sol 873-879 Update: Software Transition

20 January 2015 – There won’t be any MSL science planned this week because the rover’s software is being upgraded. I was scheduled as SOWG Chair today and tomorrow in case the software transition had to be aborted, but so far it is going well so the science operations personnel have been released. While I’m a bit disappointed that we won’t be planning new scientific observations and related activities, I’m glad that the software transition is going well.

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 871-872 Update: A Software Update is Available. Install Now?

16 January 2015 – Today’s plan for sols 871 and 872 is our last chance to get some science done before we begin a week of no activity while the engineering team upgrades the rover software. The plan is to do two ChemCam “rasters” on targets “Funk Valley” and “Rainbow Basin”. Each raster will analyze three closely-spaced spots on the target. Funk Valley is our latest candidate mini-drill target (our last mini-drill ended up breaking the rock, so we’re trying again), and Rainbow Basin is a rock with some interesting erosion-resistant knobs. Mastcam will take supporting images of these targets and then we will be spending a pretty big chunk of time doing some data management for Mastcam, transferring less-compressed versions of some images from Mastcam’s internal memory over to the rover prior to the flight software update. The last activity on sol 871 will be an overnight analysis of the chunk of rock that our first mini-drill dislodged, using APXS. This is a rare chance to do APXS on a target with a fresh, non-dusty surface!

On sol 872, ChemCam will do some passive observations of the sky to measure how much oxygen, carbon dioxide, and dust is in the atmosphere and Navcam will do some routine atmospheric measurements. There are also a bunch of Mastcam images of the same locations at different times of the day. These are part of a photometry experiment, which is trying to understand how the sun scatters off of the martian surface at different angles. There are also a handful of Mastcam images as part of a change monitoring campaign. The long break for the software update will allow us to look at the same locations in a couple weeks and see if any sand has been moved by the wind.

If all goes according to plan, there won’t be a lot of rover activity over the next week, but the team will be busy poring over the latest MAHLI images of our drilling area and the chunks that were dislodged during our first mini-drill!

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 870 Update: Keeping MAHLI Safe

15 January 2015 – This morning the MSL operations team realized that the results of the MAHLI activities planned for Sol 870 will not be received until Saturday. Therefore, if there is a problem on Sol 870 that halts the sequence while the MAHLI dust cover is open, the cover would remain open through the Martin Luther King holiday weekend. To eliminate the risk of such a situation and possible effects on the software upgrade planned for next week, the team decided not to send the Sol 870 command sequences to the rover. Unfortunately, this means that the brushing and drill target investigations planned yesterday will not occur, but they can be done after the software has been upgraded. The Sol 869 activities planned yesterday will not be affected by this change, and should be completed today.

Meanwhile, many of the MAHLI self portrait images acquired on Sol 868 have been received. When all of them have been returned to Earth, they will be assembled into the latest rover “selfie.”

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 869-870 Update: Broken Rock

14 January 2015 – The “mini-drill” test on the Mojave rock target completed successfully, but MAHLI images taken after the test showed that the rotary-percussive drilling fractured the rock. This was not expected, so the tactical team had to quickly change the Sol 869-870 plan. While we were hoping to drill a deeper hole and acquire a sample of the drill cuttings before the upgrade of the software onboard the rover next week, the rock fragments dislodged by the mini-drill activity provided a rare opportunity to examine freshly-broken surfaces. Field geologists usually carry rock hammers so that they can break rocks and examine the fresh surfaces. On Mars, the drill has served as MSL’s rock hammer! So the Sol 869 plan includes ChemCam measurements of the fresh chunk of rock and the bottom of the mini-drill hole, followed by MAHLI close-up images of the dislodged rocks, both during the day and at night (illuminated by the LEDs). On Sol 870, the brush will be used to clean off another potential mini-drill target, dubbed “Funk Valley.” MAHLI images of this new target will be taken before and after the brushing, then the drill will be “preloaded” (pushed down) against Funk Valley and a potential full drill target to determine whether the rock is strong enough to safely drill. Finally, MAHLI images will be acquired to see the results of the preload tests and the APXS will be placed on the brushed 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.

Congrats ChemCam! 200,000 Laser Shots

ChemCam 200k

Lauren’s Sol 867-868 Update: Mini-Drill at Mojave

12 January 2015 – Over the weekend, Curiosity did a short drive to get into position to drill at “Mojave.” The previously acquired MAHLI images of this target show some really interesting crystals, and we’re excited to use CheMin to figure out what minerals are present.

The main event in today’s two-sol plan is to do a mini-drill at Mojave. Before we do a full drill deep enough to collect rock powder, we do a mini-drill in preparation. We’ll also collect a number of MAHLI images before and after the mini-drill to characterize the drilling location. The plan also includes some DAN observations to characterize the subsurface near this site. Then we’ll acquire APXS of the mini-drill hole to assess the composition of the freshly exposed material.

On the second sol we will move the arm out of the way to image the hole with Mastcam, and then Curiosity will acquire a self-portrait. We like to take these “selfies” at each of the drill hole locations to document the site, and it’s also a good way to check up on the state of the rover.

Looking forward to more drilling on Mars!

Lauren Edgar is a Research Geologist at the USGS Astrogeology Science Center and a member of MSL science team.

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 864-866 Update: Hello Again, Pink Cliffs!

09 January 2015 – The drive toward “Pink Cliffs” went according to plan, so in the Sol 864 plan we will be doing a very short drive (called a “bump”) toward our drilling target: “Mojave” (shown above). Before the drive, ChemCam will analyze 5 locations in a line across a possible mineral vein in the rock, at a target called “Harrisburg”. This type of observation, called a “raster”, was quite common before ChemCam’s focus problems, but this will be the first time doing a 5-point raster since the focusing laser stopped working. ChemCam is still collecting images and spectra at multiple focus positions per point, to make sure we get good data.

After Harrisburg, ChemCam will also study a broken rock target called “Beers”, where it will take spectra and several stacks of images at different focus positions. This will provide good data for testing the focus, plus interesting science data from the freshly exposed portion of the broken rock. Mastcam will provide supporting images for both ChemCam observations, plus an image of a location where the rover ran over a small sand ripple, at a target called “Doughnut”. (I promise, Homer Simpson did not name our targets today!) Navcam will also do a dust devil search.

After that, the rover will drive about 10 meters to get into position for drilling, and we will take Mastcam and Navcam images of the surroundings. On Sol 865, our main activity is a measurement of methane in the atmosphere by SAM (Sample Analysis at Mars – the onboard chemistry lab).

And then on Sol 866, we have some routine atmospheric observations by ChemCam, Mastcam, and Navcam.

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 862-863 Update: Goodbye Whale Rock!

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07 January 2015

It’s time to hit the road again! In the Sol 862-863 plan, we are wrapping things up at “Whale Rock” and then driving about 85 m toward “Pink Cliffs”, where we hope to drill sometime soon. On Sol 862, Mastcam will take a few parting shots of Whale Rock and “Western Cliffs” before we drive away. After driving, we will do our standard post-drive imaging with Navcam and Mastcam to get a good look at our surroundings.

On Sol 863, Mastcam will look at the sun to measure how much dust is in the atmosphere (this measurement is called a “tau” because that’s the symbol used in the equation that shows how much the sun’s light is attenuated). Navcam will watch for clouds above Mt. Sharp, and ChemCam will make a passive sky observation. ChemCam will also make some measurements of the on-board calibration targets.

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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