Curiosity Update 4

Curiosity Update / May 2, 2014 (Sol 584 – 615)

May 2, 2014 (Sol 584 – 615)

Initial Reconnaissance of the Kimberley (Sol 584 – 595)

It has been almost a month since I posted an update about Curiosity and here am I! Sit down, because I have a lot of material for you to chew on. Last time our beauty Curiosity arrived at the Kimberley site where she plans to investigate and to execute a drilling campaign. The Kimberley is a spot of well-exposed outcrops that were identified many months ago from orbit and Curiosity was guided to this site for many many months. This is the best science stop for Curiosity on its way to Mt. Sharp.

Here is a route map where you can see Kimberley and Curiosity’s route around it:

Curiosity Route Sol 585 - 595
Curiosity Route Map, Sol 585 – 595

You can also appreciate this route map better, if you see it in stereo with red/blue glasses. Remember, the red is on the left eye!

What makes Kimberley a so special science stop? Well, first you can see from the orbit images several different types of rock units here. When Curiosity first arrived here, it saw the Striated Unit, which appears stripey with stripes roughly oriented on the east-west direction. Above that, there is another unit, which doesn’t look striated and even above that, there is another one. You can see also the three distinct hills/buttes on Kimberley – Mt Christine on the North-West side, Mt Joseph on the North-East side and Mt Remarkable on the Southern part of Kimberley. As we will see a bit later here, Mt Remarkable is the remarkable one where Curiosity will actually drill, but more about that later …

So, that’s good – we have hills/buttes, we have different terrains, but what does that really mean and how is this similar/different from the Yellowknife Bay where Curiosity drilled for a first time more than a year ago?

Yellowknife Bay Kimberley comparison
The image on the left shows the Yellowknife Bay. The red arrow points to a scarp, that is the contact between the lower Sheepbed mudstone and the Gillespie sandstone above it. The blue arrow points to another scarp that is the border line between the Gillespie Unit and the Glenelg Unit. A similar set of scarps appear at the Kimberley, on the right. The purple arrow points to a border between the lowermost Striated Unit and the middle bedded unit. The yellow arrow marks the contact between the middle bedded unit and the uppermost hummocky material.

At Yellowknife Bay, the science team at JPL found out evidence that the lowermost Sheepbed Unit was exposed to the environment relatively recently – around 48-108 millions of years (that is a fairly recent time for a geologist). This happened by a process of a scarp retreat, which essentially means that the rocks above eroded over time (due to wind erosion). If you want to find the best place to look for organics on Mars, you need to go places like this Sheepbed Unit where the mud-stone has been exposed relatively recently to the harsh Martian environment. The science team sees good scarp retreats at the Kimberley too. This is why Kimberley is a good science stop for Curiosity and this site was seen months ahead. Now, it turns out that the rocks at the Kimberley are not mud-stone (according to a recent JPL release), which is unfortunate, but there is still a scarp retreat here. Why is finding sandstones worse than a mud-stone? Because a mud-stone is the better material for preserving organic materials.

On the other hand, at Kimberley and around it, the rover see different types of sandstone, some of which erode faster than others. This is probably because the material that cements the grains of sands together is different and the science team wants to know exactly what is it!

So, enough science mumbling, let’s get to the images. I will be showing you a lot of images that I prepared for you. While you watch them, look at the note on which Sol they were taken by Curiosity and you can have a look at the Route Map above to see where was the rover when she took the image.

On Sol 588, Curiosity did a Mastcam imaging of several outcrops and ~45m drive around the eastern part of Kimberley.

Here is an interesting rock shot on that day:

Sol 589 Update On Curiosity From USGS Scientist Ken Herkenhoff: Soil Observations

Another successful drive on Sol 588 (April 2), so another drive is planned for Sol 589 after Mastcam and ChemCam observations of a soil target named Chirup. If the ~30-meter drive goes well, we should be in position to acquire lots of images of The Kimberley, the waypoint selected for thorough analysis using all of the instruments. Therefore, post-drive images are planned that will allow a big set of images to be accurately targeted.

Sol 589 panorama crop
Sol 589 Panorama crop NASA / JPL / Damia Bouic

On this panorama image you can see the whole Kimberley site. North is on the right.

Sol 590 Update On Curiosity From USGS Scientist Ken Herkenhoff: Arrival at The Kimberley

MSL has arrived at The Kimberley waypoint! The Sol 590 plan was dominated by Mastcam stereo observations of the extensive outcrop in front of the rover. Overnight, SAM will perform a cleaning activity in preparation for new sample analysis. The Mastcam mosaics should be useful in evaluating potential drill locations.

Curiosity panorama MtRemarkable
Sol 590, Curiosity panorama of Mt Remarkable
NASA / JPL / MSSS / Emily Lakdawalla / Tihomir Dimitrov

Let me take a side note here and explain a little bit about how Curiosity’s Mastcams work. I read this in my friend’s Emily Lakdawalla’s blog and I was so fascinated to understand why Mastcam images that the rover returns to Earth differ a little bit.

— Curiosity’s eyes 101 —

First of all, if you visit the raw images sites you maybe noticed that the right-eye images are square and the left-eye images are wide rectangles. Why is that?

Curiosity’s “eyes” are not quite the same. Her left eye differs a little bit from her right eye and this is obvious from this selfie that Curiosity did on herself on Sol 84:

Curiosity self-portrait 20121031
Curiosity self-portrait, Sol 84 (October 31, 2012) Cropped from the MAHLI mosaic that Curiosity did. (MAHLI is the image camera at the end of the robotic arm) NASA / JPL / MSSS / Tihomir Dimitrov

When you look at Curiosity as if you will kiss her, she looks like o.O as if to tell you that it is not OK to do it. And it is understandable – she is a rover!

So, let me explain – the right-eye camera has a smaller aperture. It is called Mastcam-R or Mastcam-100 and has a focal length of 100mm and a FOV of 5.1 degrees. The left-eye camera has a larger aperture and is called Mastcam-L or Mastcam-34. It has a FOV of 15 degrees – 3 times bigger! But both cameras have exactly the same detectors, which means that the M-100 takes images with a resolution 3 times larger than that of M-34, but it would take an array of 3×3 M-100 images to cover a single M-34 image.

Let me summarize up to here: M-100 (R) takes images at 3 times higher res than M-34 (L), but covers 3 times less area than M-34 (L)! (due to its 3 times narrower FOV)

So, back to the question why some images are rectangles and some are squares!

When the cameras take panoramic images simultaneously, it would be a great waste of bandwidth to send to Earth an entire M-34 (L) image for each corresponding M-100 (R) image, so they crop the M-34 (L) frames close to the coverage of the M-100 (R) image. It’s a little hard to predict where that is, because the two cameras don’t look equally straight ahead but are toed in by 2.5 degrees.

You can predict the vertical position of the M-100 (R) frame within the M-34 (L) frame, because it doesn’t change, but you can’t predict the horizontal position without knowing the distance to the object shot. So, the Mastcam team can crop the top and bottom of each M-34 (L) image to save bandwidth and they leave the left and right sides uncropped and the image is rectangular.

So, M-34 (L) images are rectangular, while M-100 (R) images are square.

You can clearly see this here among images from Sol 615 (about which we will talk about later here)

Now you have passed Curiosity’s eyes 101. Write me in the Contacts section to receive your certificate or to just say “hi” to me!

So, let’s continue with our journey around Kimberley.

Here is an update from Ken Herkenhoff:

Sol 591 – 593 Update On Curiosity From USGS Scientist Ken Herkenhoff: Data Campaign (April 5, 2014)

Planning for the weekend focused on investigating the troughs in front of the rover with ChemCam, Mastcam and MAHLI, then driving about 12 meters along the edge of the Kimberley outcrop and taking mid-drive measurements of subsurface hydrogen (water ice) content with DAN and imaging the outcrop with Mastcam. Lots of data are being acquired, so extra attention is being paid to prioritizing various observations so that they are received in the order they are needed. It may be a while before all of the data acquired during this waypoint campaign are received on Earth.

This is a panorama view taken at the end of Sol 593 drive. You can see the Striated Unit and the two northern buttes of Kimberley, as well as the rim of Gale Crater in the very distance.

Curiosity Panorama, Sol 593
Sol 593, Curiosity panorama
NASA / JPL / Damia Bouic

While passing by, Curiosity took a shot of an interesting hole in the ground in front of her and inspected it with MAHLI.

Here are several panoramas of the surroundings and the ground around Curiosity on Sol 592 and Sol 593 shot with M-34 (L).

Updates from Ken Herkenhoff about Sol 594, 595 and 596:

Sol 594 Update On Curiosity From USGS Scientist Ken Herkenhoff: Staying Put

7 April 2014The rover will stay put on Sol 594 and acquire lots of ChemCam and Mastcam data on interesting nearby rocks. I’m not scheduled in a tactical operations role today, but I’m following along because I’ll be MAHLI/MARDI uplink lead tomorrow.

Sol 595 Update On Curiosity From USGS Scientist Ken Herkenhoff: In Opposition

8 April 2014Mars is at opposition today, so Mars will rise at sunset and be visible all night here on Earth. On Mars, Earth is not visible because it is too close to the Sun.

The MSL Sol 595 plan is dominated by a drive along the edge of The Kimberley outcrop with Mastcam and Navcam stereo imaging at 4 locations along the way. Lots more Mastcam images will be taken after the drive, to help plan our exploration of The Kimberley. It was an easy day for me as MAHLI/MARDI uplink lead, as only standard MAHLI wheel images, a stowed image, and a MARDI twilight image were planned.

Sol 596 Update On Curiosity From USGS Scientist Ken Herkenhoff: Approaching an Outcrop

10 April 2014The surface near the rover isn’t very interesting, so planning for Sol 596 focused on driving toward the outcrops up to 50 meters away. During the drive, the rover will stop and acquire DAN, Hazcam and MARDI data on the striated unit before moving on. So it was an only slightly busier day for me as MAHLI/MARDI uplink lead. After the drive, Navcam and Mastcam images will be taken to allow an approach to the outcrop on Sol 597.

At the end of Sol 595, the team took a shot of the whole area with Mt Remarkable at the center to be able to make future planning. This panorama was shot with the Mastcam-100 (M-100 (R) ). Have a closer look at it, because it looks marvelous!

Curiosity panorama Mt Remarkable Sol 595
Sol 595, Curiosity panorama of Mt Remarkable

— How to take a sunset image on Mars 101 —

Let’s stop talking for a minute about mounts, scarps and cross-eyed rovers here and imagine you are on Mars. The has just set behind a rim of a crater, you can still see its blueish ambient glow high above. Shadows are crawling in and the temperature is dropping lightning fast! This is a strange depiction of an alien world, but it is not a science fiction anymore …

Curiosity has taken this marvelous sunset image over the western rim of Gale Crater on Sol 587.

Sunset over Gale Crater Sol 587
Sol 587, blue sunset over the western rim of Gale Crater shot by Curiosity
NASA / JPL / MSSS / Don Davis

This is a very beautiful image and there is a lot of planning and execution behind it. Images like this one have an incredible value for the public outrage of the Curiosity mission on Mars. Images like this one also have a scientific value for the atmospheric properties of Mars.

I am very grateful to see the Curiosity mission planners put some effort into the aesthetics of the mission images. They carefully plan how to  shoot panoramas not only to cover their scientific objectives, but also to include the proper frames, setup and to encompass enough horizon too, so that the image is more pleasing.

And make no mistake, it takes a lot of planning to take a sunset photo on Mars with a 60 minutes delay! Just imagine it!

The team at JPL has some previous experience when they took a picture of Earth setting in the Martian sky just after 7PM Local Mars Time on Sol 529. Here is that image from before:

Earthset Sol 529
Sol 529, Earth set above the rim of Gale Crater on Mars
NASA / JPL / MSSS / James Sorenson

Picking a drill site at the Kimberley (Sol 597 – 615)

The science team at JPL picked a drill site for Curiosity to drill on. They approached the site on Sol 609 and began arm work on Sol 610. Before drilling on a rock, Curiosity takes MAHLI and APXS measurements of the site, then removes the dust off the rock, its going to drill on, with its Dust Removal Tool (DRT) and shoots with the ChemCam on the dust-free surface. Then she makes a mini-drill hole to test the stability of the rover and if the rock material is good for drilling. If everything looks good, then she drills the 6.4cm deep drill hole.

Here is an image of the drill site they chose as seen from Curiosity on Sol 606:

Sol 606, Curiosity Drill Site Selection
Sol 606, Curiosity’s drill site Windjana
NASA / JPL / MSSS / Tihomir Dimitrov

And here is how Curiosity got to the drill site:

Curiosity Route Map up to Sol 608
Curiosity Route Map up to Sol 608
NASA / JPL / UA / Phil Stooke

There were anomalies on Sol 598 -600, so activities resumed on Sol 601 to 603. After their close approach to the middle unit on Sol 597 – 602, they backed up from the outcrop, getting their wheels back on sand. Then they drove south and picked their drill site.

Here are very beautiful panoramas from these sols:

Here is a rather unusual rock that Curiosity took a photo of on Sol 601. It’s amazing to see how wind erosion over the eons produced such forms with holes:

Sol 601, Unusual rock
Sol 601, Unusual rock

But before we get into the whole process with pictures of how Curiosity cleaned a rock and then drilled into it (and something else as a surprise), let me show you this incredible image of Curiosity, taken by HIRISE from orbit. I can’t stop looking at images like this one and to be fascinated with how humans have a 1-ton rover on the surface of another planet doing science.

Curiosity approaching its drilling site
Curiosity approaching its drilling site Windjana
NASA / JPL / MSSS / UA / Thomas Appéré / Tihomir Dimitrov

Even more amazing, have a look at the terrain in stereo!

Curiosity approaching its Drilling site Stereo Image
Curiosity approaching its Drilling site / Stereo Image

Here is a cool video clip that explains briefly what is Curiosity doing at Kimberley.

So, I hope you are still here admiring! Instead of showing you all the updates from Ken Herkenhoff here for these sols, I will just show you the images that I have.

On Sol 603 Curiosity had a drive toward potential drill site, with mid-drive imaging of alternate site in its schedule, then Sol 604 was wasted and then on Sol 605 MAHLI and APXS observations of a windblown soil target.

Here is a look at Curiosity’s wheels:

Curiosity wheels Sol 603 606
Sol 603 – 606, Curiosity’s wheels
Tihomir Dimitrov

Sol 603 Update On Curiosity From USGS Scientist Ken Herkenhoff: Seeking a Drill Site

17 April 2014While most of the MSL science team met at Caltech to discuss recent results and plans for the near future, the tactical team planned a 65-meter drive toward the southeastern side of Mount Remarkable, near the site chosen for the next drilling campaign. The rover will pause in the middle of the drive to image the backup drill site, then acquire all the data needed to select contact science targets and bump to a drill site this weekend. Planning is restricted again, so untargeted science will be planned for Sol 604.

Sol 604 Update On Curiosity From USGS Scientist Ken Herkenhoff: Test Results from the Mars Yard

18 April 2014Thursday was the last day of the MSL science team meeting, and the discussion shifted from science results to analysis of wheel wear, both on Mars and on Earth. The engineers at JPL have done a lot of testing in the Mars Yard and compared the results with the many images of the wheels on Mars. Although these images show that wheel wear continues, the damage is accumulating at a lower rate due to the changes in traverse planning that have been implemented in the past few months. Driving over rough terrain appears to be the most significant threat to the wheels, and efforts to recognize and avoid hazardous terrain using data returned by Mars orbiters have allowed safer drive paths to be chosen. It was clear that the engineers are not as concerned about wheel wear as they were last fall, and that they do not feel that wheel wear will limit the lifetime of rover mobility. This conclusion was based in part on tests in the JPL Mars Yard that showed that even very heavily damaged wheels performed well in climbing rocky and sandy slopes.

Here is where Curiosity stands on Sol 606 – a panorama of the surroundings, including the Windjana site drilling site and a stereo image of the sands it crossed to get there:

Sol 606 Panorama Windjana
Sol 606 Panorama Windjana
Tihomir Dimitrov
Sol 606, Curiosity crosses some sands LRNavCam anaglyph
Sol 606, Curiosity crosses some sands / LRNavCam anaglyph

So, it’s time to drill!

Here is a close-up of the Windjana drill site with annotation of the upcoming DRT and mini-drill:

The Windjana Drill Site
The Windjana Drill Site
Tihomir Dimitrov

Here is how the Dust Removel Tool (DRT) looks:

Curiosity Dust Removal Tool DRT
Curiosity Dust Removal Tool DRT
Tihomir Dimitrov

Here is the how the robotic arm reaches to the rock to brush it with the DRT:

Sol 612, DRT
Sol 612, DRT

And here is a cool animation of before/after at the place on the rock where Curiosity brushed it:

Sol 612, DRT Animation
Sol 612, DRT Animation

Curiosity has a tradition before drilling into a rock (and that happened only two times up to now) to take a selfie! As you will see just now, the selfie fashion has spread even to Mars!

Here is a selfie Curiosity took of her on Sol 613. I took the liberty to annotate some of its instruments in case you are interested yo see what sits where:

Sol 613, Curiosity Selfie
Sol 613, Curiosity Selfie
Tihomir Dimitrov

And here is an image of the mini-drill that Curiosity did on Sol 615:

Sol 615, Mini-drill
Sol 615, Mini-drill
Tihomir Dimitrov

Here are images of the drill hole and the drill bit staying on top of it:

And as a last great goodie for this update I fixed a small animation for you. This is a series of photos taken by Curiosity (on Sol 606 if I am not mistaken) at the night sky above Mt. Sharp in Gale Crater. You see the first asteroid seen from Mars.

You can read more about this very interesting event here and the animation is from me:

Ceres night shoot animation
Ceres night shoot animation


by Tihomir Dimitrov
The Human Adventures in Space Exploration – 05.2014
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April 5, 2014 (Sol 563 – 583)

During the last month, Curiosity has been full throttling to go to Kimberley! In fact, she is already there, but one thing at a time!

Curiosity has been driving every day between 559 and 569. MRO (Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter) had a safe mode situation for a few days, but mission control at JPL managed to relay data alternatively and the safe mode cost only one sol of driving lost.

Sol 561, Curiosity

Here is a Route Map of Curiosity between 555 and 569.

Curiosity Route, Sol 563-569

The upper image is taken by Curiosity on Sol 563 with a view back on where she has been driving – the Kylie outcrop –  for the last week or so.

Sol 563, Curiosity looking back at Kylie

During this period, the down-link from Curiosity for the day was slipping later and later with every day and they had a very little time to plan for the next day, so there were no science objectives during these days – only driving.

The rover drove 74 meters on Sol 568 and around 100 meters on Sol 569.

Finally, on Sol 570, the Martian calendar slipped a full day against the Earth calendar and starting Sol 571 the mission started “restricted sols” for a while.

(Restricted sols means that data from Curiosity comes to Earth so late during the day that the mission control in JPL have to use the whole next day to look at the images and plan driving and science objectives and send commands to Curiosity for the day after. This means that there is something done every other day for a while.)

On Sol 569, Curiosity spied up front to Kimberley!

Kimberley in the distance
Sol 569, Kimberley in the distance

There are 4 distinct hills on this image. The second from left to right is not a part of the Kimberley outcrop, it is closer to the rover. The other three are a part of Kimberley. Curiosity will approach the outcrop from east (left on the image) and will visit the left most hill first. There is a very interesting looking outcrop there with dark shadows on the front.

— Curiosity on Sol 538 —

Before I continue, let me show you something very interesting that I found on my friend Emily Lakdawalla on her blog.

I will post my own images like this one later, but let me show you this one as I am pretty excited about it!

Check out our mighty Curiosity rover on Sol 538 on the surface of Mars shot by MRO’s HiRISE camera. That dot there is our 342 kg (on the surface of Mars) rover!! On Earth, Curiosity’s identical twin, that JPL uses  when they have to do something complicated or risky, weighs 899 kg!

Curiosity on Sol 538 from HiRISE
Sol 538, Curiosity
Sol 538, Curiosity has just crossed Dingo Gap
(image is 750m wide and 500m tall)
Sol 538, Curiosity has just crossed Dingo Gap (captioned)

Sol 570 – 583, Curiosity

So, on Sol 570, Curiosity spotted Kimberley from a bit more than 100 meters. Kimberley is a unit where three types of terrain meet. The three hills of Kimberley are the top most layer, the other layer is the “striated” unit which can be seen even from orbit. It appears on stripes and is located primarily on the south-eastern part of Kimberley, but some of it is also visible in the north part of the outcrop and that is where our mighty Curiosity is headed!

On Sol 572 and Sol 574 drove the distance to Kimberley and on Sol 574 it arrived there.

Curiosity Route Map, Sol 570-583
Curiosity Route Map, Sol 570-583

Here are shots of two panoramas taken on Sol 571 and Sol 580:

On Sol 571 they made an APXS integration on the Curiosity’s observation tray. This measurement will be useful as a baseline when they put new material in the tray of the rover and such a measurement wasn’t done for almost an year now, so it was time.

Here is a comparison of the observation tray on Sol 70 and Sol 571:

Curiosity’s APXS Observation tray on Sol 70 and Sol 571

The observation tray is in the front of the rover’s trunk, so it is at a convenient viewing place for all cameras and for the robotic arm. By the way, if you want to know a little more about the science instruments that Curiosity has, check out this image.

On another note, scientist Ken Herkenhoff posts almost daily updates on the activities that Curiosity does every sol. You can check them out here.

Here is Ken Herkenhoff’s update about Sol 576:

Sol 576 Update On Curiosity From USGS Scientist Ken Herkenhoff: “thwack” (20 March 2014)

The Sol 574 post-drive images show nice outcrops in front of the rover, suitable for contact science. This image shows the favored rock face for contact science at upper left. The Sol 576 plan starts with a ChemCam observation of this rock face, plus a Mastcam stereo mosaic of the outcrop. Then the arm will be deployed to “thwack” and vibrate CHIMRA to clean out any remnants of the “John Klein” sample, followed by Mastcam and RMI imaging of the CHIMRA sieve. After stowing the arm, the rover will bump about 2.7 meters toward the outcrop and take the data needed to plan contact science this weekend.

Again, check out the link above to see what is ChemCam and CHIMRA.

And here is a stereo view of the north part of Kimberley in case you have 3D glasses around and you want to be amazed of the feeling to be actually on Mars.

Sol_574_Stereo of Kimberlet by Curiosity
Sol 574, Stereo image image of Kimberley
Sol 574, Kimberley Curiosity panorama

Here is an image of the interesting rock that ChemCam’s RMI shot and the colorized Mastcam data on top.

NASA issued some news on Kimberley on March 24 and you can read them here, but I will try to summarize things here with my limited knowledge. Basically they think that all rocks around Kimberley appear to be sandstones, but then why do they look different? The material that fills the space between the the smalls grains of sand is called cement. Cement can have different characteristics, depending on the environmental history of the affected rock. For example, sandstones will clay-mineral cement are much much softer and breakable than sandstones with cement made of quartz. The major issue to understand now is why some of the rocks differ from others and resist more erosion. This is the motivation of science team to investigate at Kimberley!

Emily Lakdawalla says:

They will not be able to answer that question with cameras or even with the APXS instrument on the arm. The APXS can tell them what elements are present in the rock, but not the minerals, and it’s the mineral information we need in order to answer the cement question. For mineralogy, we need SAM and Chemin, and that means drilling.

So, it’s time to drill! This means that they first have to prepare for drilling. As we said earlier (Ken Herkenhoff’s quote) they did an activity called “primary thwack” which is basically knocking CHIMRA’s sieve on its top to remove any residual material left from John Klein that may be stuck in its holes. They have a suspicion here that they might have problems with the weld edges of the sieve that may be a little detached from each other and this might be a cause for a serious problem later on. They took many images up close of the problematic sieve.

The rover also has a couple of arm faults happening on Sol 576 and Sol 578. Arm faults happen when the rover thinks that something bad might happen to its equipment if it does what it is commanded to do. This is different from a rover safe mode, where something bad actually happened and the rover is in emergency mode, waiting for a fix. Anyway, the faults were of known issues and everything is healthy and in business!

So, on Sol 583 Curiosity placed her robotic arm for the first time on Kimberley, checking out with MAHLI and APXS at the end of the arm.

MSL planning is still restricted on Sol 584.

— Wheel Damage —

On another note, Curiosity’s wheels are in a fine state for now.

Here is a statement on NASA’s site:

“The wheel damage rate appears to have leveled off, thanks to a combination of route selection and careful driving,” said JPL’s Richard Rainen, mechanical engineering team leader for Curiosity. “We’re optimistic that we’re doing OK now, though we know there will be challenging terrain to cross in the future.”

The pace at which new holes have appeared in the wheels during recent drives is less than one-tenth what it was a few months ago. Activities with a test rover at JPL this month show that wheels with much more extensive damage than has been sustained by any of Curiosity’s six wheels can still perform well. The holes in Curiosity’s wheels are all in the thin aluminum skin between much thicker treads. These tests on Earth are using wheels so damaged that many treads are broken, but they still provide traction.

Stay tuned for more soon …

 by Tihomir Dimitrov
The Human Adventures in Space Exploration – 04.2014
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March 14, 2014 (Sol 549 – 562)

Curiosity has been traveling to its scientific target Kimberley – an exposed outcrop where scientists are hopeful to do contact science and a drilling campaign.

Curiosity Route, Sol 549 – 562

Here is Curiosity’s road map and some views of the places which she visited.

While driving on Sol 548, Curiosity took some photos of outcrops called Scrutons and Junda. You can also see a stereo image of Junda here.

Scrutons-Outcrop-on-Sol-548  Junda Ourcrop in gray

On Sol 549, Curiosity arrived to an outcrop called Bungle Bungle and made measurements with MAHLI and APXS. On Sol 550, it made zapped the outcrop with its laser and took this wonderful image (have a look at the large version – it is so beautiful).

Bungle Bungle Outcrop

Bungle Bungle seems to be composed of chunks of rocks of different sizes. They are sort of roundish, but not quite. This means that they haven’t traveled a long distance (in water) before being deposited in this outcrop. The most probable explanation is that sediments were deposited and water dumped a bulk of small rocks into the place that we see now.

Then, on Sol 550, Curiosity entered the valley where Kylie resides.

On Sol 552, they drove into that valley and took an image when standing north of Kylie …

Mastcam view of Kylie on Sol 550
Mastcam view of Kylie on Sol 550

… then another long drive on Sol 553 and another shot of Kylie, this time west of it.

Kylie from North on Sol 552
Kylie from North on Sol 552

This striated outcrop (Kylie) is made of some kind of laminated rock which layers are slightly tilted. On Earth such tilted layers can appear if they are flat and then as a result of tectonics they get tilted. This can’t happen on Mars. Another two options are first, this tilted layers to have been created by wind and the second, if a river’s delta drops its sediments outwards in tilted beds in a way that looks superficially similar to windblown sand.

Kylie from West on Sol 553
Kylie from West on Sol 553

On Sol 555, they departed Kylie.

On Sol 557 Curiosity did some SAM combustion experiments and they need a lot of power so there were no daytime activities scheduled. The latest of these activities finished in the morning of Sol 558, then Curiosity did some Mastcam and ChemCam observations of a target called “Mount Amy”, then MAHLI and APXS observations of a target called “Johnny Cake”. On Sol 559, Curiosity took this photo of its road ahead and unfortunately it is not the kind of terrain that it is best for its wheels so it headed west (right) to go around it. You can also see that the horizon is very near on this image meaning that after that there is a steep slope that may prove to be dangerous!

Bad Path ahead of CuriositySo, instead of driving straight through the rocks, Curiosity headed west.

Curiosity-Navcam-view-backwards-towards-Kylie,-Violet-and-Moonlight-valleysThis is an image Curiosity took on Sol 561 on the entrance of the next valley (the middle of the image).


by Tihomir Dimitrov
The Human Adventures in Space Exploration – 03.2014
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Feb. 23, 2014 (Sol 540 – 548)

Curiosity added backwards driving to its arsenal of activities checked out! The rover drove already 285.5 meters since it crossed the dune called Dingo Gap on Feb. 9. Curiosity drives over a confirmed more benign terrain from orbital imagery. There are fewer sharp rocks, many of them are loose, and in most places there’s a little sand cushioning the rover. Its total odometer now stands at 5.21 km.

PIA17946_modestThe main mission of the rover remains the same: a science waypoint called Kimberly (about 1.1km away) where Curiosity will most likely use it’s drill for a third time and then longer-term goal investigating the lower slopes of Mt. Sharp, where water-related minerals have been detected from orbit. 20140221_msl_routemap_contour_dingo-gap_kimberley_sol548_f840

20140220_curiosity_mcam_sol546 20140220_curiosity_mcam_sol543

Feb. 20, 2014

On Sol 540 Curiosity reached the 5 km mark on its journey on Mars just after it drove over the Dingo Gap dune!

after Dingo Gap

Curiosity was making daily fast drives on auto-nav-drive until sol 472 when Mission control at JPL noticed that the wheels of the rover started to wear out very quickly.

20140212_curiosity-map-to-sol-540Wear and tear was expected, but the rate at which it happened was unexpected. The main reason for this are the winds on Mars that turn small rocks to small sharp pointy pyramids and when the heavy Curiosity (more than 300 kg on Mars) drives over them, punctures and tears appear on the titanium – aluminum wheels. This is the reason why the team at JPL decided to take the more benign, so called “pink route” which is not the shortest to Mt. Sharp. The team created a map of every wheel and after each short daily drive, wheels are monitored on a daily basis. 20140120_wheel_survey_sol513_allNow the rover is driven by the so-called “blind driving” method and the first such drive after Dingo Gap was 75 m which is a big distance considered the method. Curiosity is looking for a fairly recently exposed bedrock that appear everywhere in the area, but the rover has to choose a smooth terrain to get to those exciting points where she will contact science and possibly a drill.

The actual drill through Dingo Gap, shot by the front and rear Haz Cams: 20140211_jtLYMhK

20140211_9juuMj1After crossing the Dingo Gap, Curiosity found some fins of materials protruding from the rock. These are places where fractures within the rock were filled with a material precipitating out of groundwater. Since the fill formed, the rocks have been eroding due to wind. The rocks are less resistant to erosion than the fracture fill, so the fracture fill now stands up higher than the rock itself.  The rover deployed its arm to use the APXS and MAHLI instruments to study these veins. 20140211_0538MR2122001000E1_DXXX And here is a short very interesting story just so you can get a sense of how complex Curiosity mission is and how many things have to be taken in mind so that everything goes on plan.

Curiosity uses has 3 antennas with which it communicates with orbiters around Mars and with Earth. It uses its UHF antenna for downlink meaning that it sends data to orbiters around Mars and they in turn send it to Earth. That’s downlink! Curiosity, however, receives commands from Earth directly through its High-gain antenna (or the HGA)! This receive of commands usually happens in the morning local time, the HGA has to be able to “see” Earth on the Martian sky. 20140212_MSL-communications-hardware

Earth rises on the Martian sky in the east. The mission is currently in such a state that Earth rises relatively late on the Martian horizon. Meanwhile the HGA is located towards the middle of the rover, and is occluded when pointing rearward (at low angles) by the UHF, the LGA and the RTG (Curiosity’s power supply). Because Curiosity drives southwest, requires sometimes to turn the whole rover on place, so that communications are possible with Earth.

Now, driving UP the Dingo Gap dune, the team first drove west. This “lowered” the rear part of the rover , or “raised Earth” making the HGA situation better. However, driving DOWN the dune towards the west, had the opposite effect and this was the reason why the communication window had to be delayed for later the day.



On Jan. 30, Curiosity reached a 1 meter high dune surrounded by two scarps. The team is deciding whether to cross the dune. Curiosity needs to keep its wheels from punctures, that’s why the mission team are investigating routes that have less sharp stones. Based on analysis of images from orbit, the dune’s location called “Dingo Gap” was assessed as a possible gateway to a favorable route for Curiosity’s next traverse to the base of Mt. Sharp.

This is a stereo image made by Curiosity’s Mastcam.


An this is a full rez image of the area.


UPDATE: Curiosity has passed successfully through the “Dingo Gap” sand dune and now is on its way on a smoother route to Mt. Sharp.



by Tihomir Dimitrov
The Human Adventures in Space Exploration – 02.2014
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