Getting Ready to Roam
Curiosity is drawing closer to its first planned drive on the surface of Mars. The first stage in preparing for this is a static test of the steering actuators, due some time in the next couple of Sols following the ChemCam test firing.
The front and rear wheels on the rover are steerable, and the initial tests will comprise turning the wheels on the spot to confirm the actuators are all working. This will then be followed by the rover taking a very short drive – literally a handful of metres – around Sol 15 of the mission. This will comprise driving the rover forward for a few metres (turning it through about 90-degrees in the process), taking a look back at its landing-point, and then reversing a few metres.
In the meantime, mission planners have already selected Curiosity’s first excursion. This will be for a distance of some 400 metres (1,300 feet) to the south-west of the landing point to a natural intersection of three types of terrain which has been dubbed Glenelg. The traverse is liable to take a while, but once there, the rover will be able to commence a comprehensive check-out of the robot arm and its “hand” of scientific instruments.
Also in preparation for the rover’s coming trek to “Mount Sharp”, JPL released a high-resolution image of the lower slopes of the mound captured by the MastCam’s 34mm camera system and gives a very clear indication of the kind of terrain the rover is liable to be traversing as it climbs the lower slopes of the mount in the months ahead. A scale has been added to the image, and the mesa visible are thought to be equally to buildings around 2 or 3 floors tall.
As with the majority of the colour images released to date, the picture has been white balanced, so the colours are pretty much as they would appear if the scene were illuminated by terrestrial levels of sunlight. This helps scientists in recognising rocks by colour in the more familiar lighting. As Mars receives between one- and two-thirds the amount of sunlight received by Earth, were the images rendered using typical Martian lighting levels, they would appear far more bland, as with the images in my last MSL article.
Mohawk Guy Returns
One of two unexpected celebrities during the liver coverage of MSL’s landing on Mars was Bobak Ferdowsi. He is a mission flight director with responsibilities for “driving” Curiosity, but found fame when images of his Mohawk haircut featured prominently in the mission landing coverage from JPL, leading to him being globally dubbed “Mohawk Guy”. The haircut itself is one of a number Ferdowski, who has been a part of the MSL team since 2003, has sported to mark various parts of the mission. NASA has been quick to recognise and embrace his celebrity, and he’s given numerous “personal interest” interviews that have helped keep the mission in the public eye. This week he’s back, hosting JPL’s weekly updates on the mission, and filling-in on the bits I’ve not covered here.
The Mars Descent Imager recorded just over 1,000 high-resolution images during the MSL’s descent through the last 3.7 kilometres of the Martian atmosphere. This represents a period spanning the parachute descent and the power descent phase once the rover / descent stage had separated from their protective aeroshell. These images have been returned to Earth along with the other images being returned by the Navcams, Mastcam systems, et al, and are being worked on to present what is hoped will be a video montage of the vehicle’s descent to a point shortly before landing.
On Friday August 17th, the mission team released a short piece of footage put together from the images received which shows the MSL’s heat shield as it impacts the surface of Mars.