Curiosity – Panorama at Point Lake

Point Lake
Portion of a Panorama View toward Point Lake from Rocknest
Image Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech / Malin Space Science Systems

Taken from Rocknest, the image above includes the site named Point Lake and is the center of the scene in the panorama below. After taking the many images stitched together for the panorama, Curiosity drove 83 feet (25.3 meters) to Point Lake on 18 November 2012.

From Point Lake, Curiosity’s MastCam is taking another series for a panorama in order to identify candidates for the first effort to drill into a Martian rock.

Panorama
Panorama View toward Point Lake from Rocknest (Click to Enlarge)
Image Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech / Malin Space Science Systems

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One Year Mission on the Space Station Set for 2015

Scott Kelly
American Astronaut Scott Kelly
Image Credit: NASA

Mikhail Kornienko
Russian Cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko
Image Credit: NASA

NASA announced on Monday 26 November 2012, that American astronaut Scott Kelly and Russian cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko have been selected by NASA, the Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos), and their international partners to conduct a 12 month mission aboard the International Space Station (ISS) in 2015.

The mission aboard the orbiting laboratory is designed to further our understanding of how the human body reacts and adapts to microgravity and other aspects of living in space. Work over the past several years have shown marked improvement in the ability for astronauts on a normal 5-6 month mission aboard the ISS to adapt to microgravity. The year long mission seeks to validate these findings.

Long duration missions to the Moon, Lagrange points, asteroids and Mars will require countermeasures to reduce risks associated with future exploration.

Kelly and Kornienko are veterans of space travel. Kelly served as a pilot on space shuttle mission STS-103 in 1999, commander on STS-118 in 2007, flight engineer on the International Space Station Expedition 25 in 2010 and commander of Expedition 26 in 2011. Kelly has logged more than 180 days in space.

Kornienko was selected as an Energia test cosmonaut candidate in 1998 and trained as an International Space Station Expedition 8 backup crew member. He served as a flight engineer on the station’s Expedition 23/24 crews in 2010 and has logged more than 176 days in space.

The two astronauts will launch aboard a Soyuz spacecraft in the Spring of 2015 and return to land in Kazakhstan in the Spring of 2016.

The Pencil Nebula

Pencil Nebula
The Pencil Nebula Imaged by the ESO Wide Field Imager
Image Credit: ESO

The European Southern Observatory has released new images of the Pencil Nebula taken by the Wide Field Imager on the MPG/ESO 2.2-metre telescope.

The nebula is only 800 light years from Earth, and changes position in the night sky within a human lifetime.

Click on the image to see a wide field view of the nebula and its environment.

Curiosity – Arm Camera on Sol 30

Arm
The Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) on Curiosity’s Tool Arm
Image Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech / MSSS

This image of MAHLI was taken from the left eye of the Mast Camera (MastCam) during the 30th Sol on Mars. The pink circle in the center of the image is the dust cover on the MAHLI camera, which is about 10 cm in diameter. The triangular mechanism to the right of the camera is the wire brush dust removal tool.

Curiosity has now traveled more than the length of a football field (American Football). The tracks left on the surface have been imaged by the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera on NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (image below).

The next week will be filled with testing the robotic arm. Daniel Limondi said:

We will be putting the arm through a range of motions and placing it at important ‘teach points’ that were established during Earth testing, such as the positions for putting sample material into the inlet ports for analytical instruments. These activities are important to get a better understanding for how the arm functions after the long cruise to Mars and in the different temperature and gravity of Mars, compared to earlier testing on Earth.

Once these tests are completed and results analyzed, Curiosity will continue on toward Glenelg, where it is expected to scoop soil, drill into rocks, process collected samples and deliver a sample into the analytical instruments.

Tracks
Tracks from the first Drives by Curiosity seen from HiRISE
Image Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech / University of Arizona

Curiosity – From Here To There

Distances
Annotated Image of the Lower Slopes of Mount Sharp With Distances
Image Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech / MSSS

NASA released the image above, composed of test images from the 100 millimeter MastCam. The distances were calculated using data from the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera aboard NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter

Dawn Spacecraft Departing Vesta For Ceres

Vesta
Composite Image of Vesta Showing Surface Material
Image Credit: AP

Despite a problem with a reaction wheel, Dawn continues to spiral outward from the asteroid Vesta, where it has spent the past year. Today, 26 August, Dawn is formally scheduled to depart Vesta.

Both the internal and external structures have been thoroughly mapped.

On 8 September 2012, the Dawn science team will host “Hasta La Vesta”, a celebration of the exploration of Vesta and the departure of Dawn toward its 2015 arrival at Ceres.

Curiosity – Glenelg

Glenelg
Curiosity – First Target will be Glenelg.
Image Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech / University of Arizona

Glenelg, a site (blue dot) about 400 meters from where Curiosity landed, has been selected as the first target for the rover. Glenelg is a palindrome, and was thought appropriate because the rover will visit the spot (below) twice during its exploration of the area, before heading to the base of Mount Sharp.

Glenelg
Glenelg – Intersection of three Types of Terrain
Image Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech / University of Arizona

Scientists are interested in the bright terrain at the top because this may be bedrock, which could be a good target for Curiosity’s first drilling experiment. The second terrain, below and right, shows extensive small craters and may represent an older or harder surface. The last area, below and left, is the type of terrain where Curiosity landed and scientists can try to determine if the same kind of rock texture at Goulburn, an area where blasts from the descent stage rocket engines scoured away some of the surface, also occurs at Glenelg.

If an appropriate site is found, the rover will use its drill to extract a few grains and feed them into the rover’s analytical instruments, SAM and CheMin, which will then make very detailed mineralogical and other investigations.

The Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) is a suite of three instruments, including a mass spectrometer, gas chromatograph, and a tunable laser spectrometer, which will look for compounds of the element carbon, including methane, that are associated with life. The instruments will explore ways in which they are generated and destroyed in the martian ecosphere. SAM will also look for and measure the abundances of other light elements, such as hydrogen, oxygen, and nitrogen, associated with life.

The Chemistry and Mineralogy instrument (CheMin) will identify and measure the abundances of various minerals on Mars.

Once this initial exploration is complete (which could take a month or more), the rover will aim to drive to the blue spot marked “Base of Mt. Sharp”.

This is a break in the dunes that should let Curiosity begin moving up the slopes. The base of Mount Sharp is composed of layered buttes and mesas, and should reveal the geological history of the area.