Curiosity – Mars Rover and the First Hundred Days

Curiosity
Artist Conception – Curiosity’s Laser and ChemCam
Image Credit: NASA

Curiosity set down at Bradbury Landing (see below) on Mars at 10:32 PM PDT on 5 August 2012 and has finished her first hundred Sols.

Curiosity Landing Site
Curiosity Landing Site in Gale Crater
Image Credit: NASA

The image below maps out the route from Bradbury Landing to the mixed terrain at Glenelg, which marks the first major destination for the rover.

Curiosity spent the first three weeks checking out her equipment. The discolored and disturbed area around the landing site resulted from the blast of the rocket engines that settled Curiosity on the surface. While there, she used her Laser and ChemCam on a rock called “Coronation” to obtain some early measurements.

Then she started moving. By Sol 30, Curiosity was more than 100 yards from where she landed, and began testing her robotic arm.

Bradbury Landing to Glenelg
Curiosity – From Bradbury Landing to Glenelg
Image Credit: NASA

At the end of testing the arm, Curiosity was five weeks into her two years of planned exploration. She then set out on a drive of 20 sols to a site called “Rocknest”.

The center of the 360 degree panorama (below) is due South. Mount Sharp (in the center of Gale Crater) is off to the left. “Rocknest” is off to the right. The edges of the image are due North. Click on the image to enlarge.

Rocknest
Panorama of “Rocknest”
Image Credit: NASA

While at “Rocknest”, Curiosity spent almost five weeks exploring. Here are some of the highlights:

  • Sol 59 – Arrival at “Rocknest”
  • Sol 61 – First scoop of soil
  • Sol 64 – Decontamination of Sieve
  • Sol 66 – Second scoop
  • Sol 69 – Third Scoop
  • Sol 71 – Sample place in ChemMin
  • Sol 79 – Sample Results – “Hawaii”
  • Sol 86 – SAM Atmosphere tests

Below are two images. On the left is a picture of one of the trenches left by the scoop on the robotic arm. To the right is a close up of the scoop (1.5 x 2.5 inches) filled with the fine dust and sand from “Rocknest”.

Scooping
Trenching and Scooping at “Rocknest”
Image Credit: NASA

Mars rover Curiosity has completed initial experiments showing the mineralogy of Martian soil is similar to weathered basaltic soils of volcanic origin in Hawaii, with significant amounts of feldspar, pyroxene and olivine.

A few days ago, she resumed her journey toward Glenelg.

Curiosity – Science from ChemCam

Coronation Spectrum
ChemCam Spectrum from the Rock Named Coronation
Image Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech / LANL / CNES / IRAP

Earlier this week, Curiosity used its Chemistry and Camera (ChemCam) to record the ultraviolet (UV), violet, visible and near-infrared spectra from a rock called Coronation. The rock was bombarded with 30 laser pulses, and the light recorded by three spectrometers.

Viewing the enlarged image, minor elements titanium and manganese show in the insert on the left in the 398-to-404-nanometer range, and Hydrogen shows up in the right hand insert with carbon (from carbon dioxide in the Martian atmosphere). Hydrogen was only present in the first laser shot, indicating it was present only in the surface material.

The preliminary analysis shows the rock to probably be basalt, a common volcanic rock on Mars. Coronation is about 8 centimeters across and was located about 1.5 meters from Curiosity (prior to its drive yesterday).

Curiosity – First Drive at Bradbury Landing

First Drive
Curiosity Makes First Drive at Bradbury Landing
Image Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech

360° image of Bradbury Landing taken from Curiosity following 20 feet of driving, the first movement on Mars for this rover. The drive comprised a forward segment, a 90° turn and a short drive in reverse. The soil is relatively firm and no problems were encountered.

The landing site has been named for famed science fiction author Ray Bradbury, author of many books, including “The Martian Chronicles”. Bradbury died in June at 92.

In the image, one can see the scouring of the surface from the four rocket engines of the Sky Crane, which lowered Curiosity to the surface. Earlier this week, the Chemistry and Camera (ChemCam) instrument recorded spectra from laser pulses fired at rocks exposed by the rocket blasts. Preliminary results suggest that the rocks may be basalt within a sedimentary deposit.

Mission operators expect to spend several days in the landing area before setting off on a 400 meter drive to the east-southeast.

Curiosity – Laser Beam and the ChemCam

ChemCam
Laser Beam and ChemCam Explore the Chemistry of Mars Rock
Image Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech / LANL / CNES / IRAP

Two sols ago, Curiosity fired its laser at the fist sized rock called “Coronation”, ChemCam (Chemistry Camera) recorded the light from the elements vaporized by the laser and analyzed it with three spectrometers. The small square in the image is 8 mm across.

One question that this test will answer is whether the composition of the vaporized rock changed during the sequence of 30 laser pulses. If so, it could indicate that there was dust on the surface prior to the rock beneath being vaporized.

ChemCam is the first instrument capable of analyzing the elemental make up of material on Mars. Previous instruments on Spirit and Opportunity could take spectral data of rock minerals in the infrared and with alpha particle scattering and X-rays:

  • Miniature Thermal Emission Spectrometer (Mini-TES)
  • Mössbauer Spectrometer (MB)
  • Alpha Particle X-Ray Spectrometer (APXS)

Curiosity is also equipped with an Alpha Particle X-Ray Spectrometer.

ChemCam was developed, built and tested by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Los Alamos National Laboratory in partnership with scientists and engineers funded by France’s national space agency, Centre National d’Etudes Spatiales (CNES) and research agency, Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS).

Below is the first image showing the extension of the robotic arm. The 7-foot-long (2.1-meter-long) arm maneuvers a turret of tools including a camera, a drill, a spectrometer, a scoop and mechanisms for sieving and portioning samples of powdered rock and soil.

Robot Arm
Robotic Arm on Curiosity Extended for the First Time on Mars
Image Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech