MISSION UPDATES | January 27, 2020

Sols 2656-2657: Rover Activity Planning "Gaming" Finesse

Written by Susanne Schwenzer, Planetary Geologist at The Open University
MAHLI image featuring bedrock and veins. This image was taken by MAHLI onboard NASA's Mars rover Curiosity on Sol 2654 (2020-01-24T01:51:11.000Z).

MAHLI image featuring bedrock and veins. This image was taken by MAHLI onboard NASA's Mars rover Curiosity on Sol 2654 (2020-01-24T01:51:11.000Z). Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS. Download image ›

Curiosity continues to function normally on Mars. We are at a very interesting point with potential changes in rock chemistry. That always gets the geochemists like me to sit up and pay extra attention. But we don’t always get it our way, because other investigations are just as important. Today’s plan is a two-sol plan with the third day being a soliday, which did not make it any easier. As the Science Operations Working Group chair put it: “This plan is a two-sol plan, but it surely doesn’t feel like it with all the details!” So, we waited anxiously for the plan to be combined from all the fragments and get the engineering judgement on power. Unfortunately, and despite serious efforts that reminded me of trying to play Tetris and Sudoku in the same game, the power available was not enough to get it all done. In a case like this, careful considerations are required regarding what observations are specific to the location or the time, and which ones could wait for the next plan. It was the ENV group, who today gave up an observation to make it all fit, but retains the crater rim extinction and the full tau observation.

From a geochemist’s perspective the most interesting part of the story at the current location is that we see two different types of bedrock. One is characterized in the images by a smoother appearance and veins in it. This type is the primary focus on the plan. But there is nodular bedrock, too. APXS has the smoother bedrock in reach and will measure the target “Rannoch Moore” as an evening investigation and “Sauchiehall” as an overnight, long duration target after DRT. MAHLI will document both targets. ChemCam will investigate “Rannoch Moore” in conjunction with APXS, and has the targets “Janetstown,” also on smoother bedrock, and “Glenalmond” on the nodular version.

At our current location, we have an excellent view of several buttes and the Geenheugh pediment. This is reflected in a very busy plan for Mastcam. The Greenheugh pediment and Tower Butte are images together in a 19x4 mosaic, but there are two more observations with mosaics on Western Butte and the trough feature in front of us. This will allow for detailed analysis of the sediments, but also aid the upcoming drives. Exciting times at a very interesting location!

ENV’s activity is a sunset tau, and MARDI, DAN and REMS measurements as well as post-drive imaging complete this very busy plan. In addition to all the observations, Curiosity is set to drive 50 metres – uphill! I am sure Curiosity is happy and ready for a recharging soliday after this plan!