Curiosity’s handlers sent no commands to the rover for most of April, because Mars was on the opposite side of the sun from Earth at the time. But this planetary alignment, known as a Mars solar conjunction, is now over, and the mission team is planning to drill into a Red Planet rock soon and then send Curiosity off on an epic, miles-long trek to the base of a huge and mysterious mountain.
“A couple of weeks to move to the site and drill, and then the experiments themselves can take also a couple of weeks — that’s about the time scale we’re looking at,” said Curiosity deputy project scientist Ashwin Vasavada, of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. “And then we’d hopefully get going.”
He stressed, however, that this timeframe could shift depending on how the drilling operation goes, and what Curiosity discovers.
Curiosity healthy after ‘spring break’
The Curiosity rover wasn’t idle during conjunction. It continued monitoring Martian weather and radiation and perfomed some relatively simple science work using commands sent up in advance, Vasavada said.
“That all went fine — it kind of executed flawlessly a long set of preplanned activities,” he told SPACE.com. “We had never planned 30 days at once [before], so that was a relief.”
But things have picked up since mission controllers got back in touch with Curiosity late last week. They’ve already uploaded a minor software update to the rover, which emerged from conjunction in fine health, Vasavada said.
Curiosity continues to operate on its backup, or B-side, computer, which it switched to after a glitch knocked out its primary computer (or A-side) in late February.
The rover team has still not fully figured out what happened to the A-side, but engineers have made significant troubleshooting progress. For example, Curiosity would have been OK if an issue during conjunction had forced the rover to swap back over to the A-side computer, Vasavada said.
Drilling another hole
The rover team has already checked off this primary goal, announcing in March that a spot dubbed Yellowknife Bay was indeed habitable billions of years ago. Scientists reached this conclusion after studying Curiosity’s analyses of material pulled from a 2.5-inch-deep (6.4 centimeters) hole the rover drilled into a Red Planet outcrop.
Now that conjunction’s over, the mission team wants to drill another hole in a nearby rock, to confirm and perhaps extend the exciting results gleaned from the first drilling activity.
“Probably in the next week or two, we will slightly move the rover to a new location, which the science team is actively choosing right now,” Vasavada said. “Primarily, it will be to duplicate the results from the first hole, because they were so exciting and, in some cases, unexpected that the people who run the experiments just want to make sure it’s really correct before writing all the papers up.” Read the rest of this entry »
And it was their first attempt — beating the less than 50% success rate of all Mars missions to date. Read all about it here.
What is red, is a planet and is the focus of my orbit? pic.twitter.com/HDRWjOcPus
— ISRO’s Mars Orbiter (@MarsOrbiter) September 24, 2014
— NASA (@NASA) September 24, 2014
PASADENA, Calif. – NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity has used autonomous navigation for the first time, a capability that lets the rover decide for itself how to drive safely on Mars.
This latest addition to Curiosity’s array of capabilities will help the rover cover the remaining ground en route to Mount Sharp, where geological layers hold information about environmental changes on ancient Mars. The capability uses software that engineers adapted to this larger and more complex vehicle from a similar capability used by NASA’s Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity, which is also currently active on Mars.