Not long after I Pressed my last MSL update, Curiosity went ahead and collected its first scoop of Martian sand.
The operation took place over the course of several hours on October 7th (Sol 61), gathered a scoopful of sand and powdery material from the sand ridge the rover had been examining at a location mission managers have dubbed “Rocknest”.
The operation was the first phase in a process which is designed to “clean” the Collection and Handling for In-Situ Martian Rock Analysis (CHIMRA) device mounted on the turret at the end of Curiosity’s robot arm (and which includes the scoop itself). The cleaning process is required to ensure that no contaminants from Earth remain in CHIMRA’s chambers so they do not adversely affect analysis when samples eventually reach the on-board SAM and CheMin instruments.
The entire process was carefully monitored using several of Curiosity’s camera systems in order to confirm progress and to make sure everything was operating as expected. This made the gathering of the first scoop of material a protracted affair, with the Hazcams at the front of the rover being used to monitor progress from a low angle and both the Navcam and Mastcam systems imaging progress and results. Once the sample has been gathered, the turret was vibrated gently to level the material in the scoop and shake-off any excess.
It was an image from the Mastcam which brought a halt to operations, when a small, bright object was spotted. Believing the object might be something from the rover, mission managers decided to suspend the scoop operations and use the Remote Micro-Imager of the Chemistry and Camera (ChemCam) instrument to study the object in an attempt to ascertain what it might be.
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