MISSION UPDATES | July 22, 2021

Sols 3185-3187: A Pivoted Plan!

Written by Catherine O'Connell-Cooper, Planetary Geologist at University of New Brunswick
This image was taken by Mast Camera (Mastcam) of the APXS sensor head onboard NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity on Sol 3183.

This image was taken by Mast Camera (Mastcam) of the APXS sensor head onboard NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity on Sol 3183. Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS. Download image ›

On Monday, blogger Melissa mentioned an unexpected scuff in the soft drill fines, presumably made by APXS. We had not planned to make contact, so Mastcam took some images in Monday’s plan to make sure that APXS was in good health. The image above shows the APXS sensor head, looking healthy, if a little dusty – that is what almost nine (!!) years of hard work will do for you!

Today's plan was a typical “Touch and Go” plan, where we do some early morning analysis on the workspace in front of us, followed by a drive to the next location. Our drive from Monday’s plan came up a little short of where we had planned to be, but fortunately brought us to a beautiful workspace, filled with elongated raised features, crosscut by a series of white vein features perpendicular to the raised features. It’s a really interesting pattern, very evenly spaced out.

As APXS science planner today, I was happy to see that some of the linear features were reachable by APXS and MAHLI. We picked a relatively flat appearing target and a name (“Javerlhac”) and thought we were set up for some nice science. Unfortunately, towards the end of planning, we realised that the topography was not quite as flat as it appeared in the workspace images, and not as suitable for APXS, so we had to make the tough call to pull it.

Pulling an activity at the last minute is definitely not ideal. The plans we send up to Curiosity are always jam packed, with every minute accounted for. Some days, we spend long hours finessing plans just to gain a couple of minutes, and removing this short APXS meant that about 35 minutes of time were now not being used. No one likes to waste time on Mars, so the GEO theme group had to pivot quickly, scrambling to take advantage of the extra time. MAHLI decided to continue with the plan to image Javerlhac. Mastcam expanded images in the workspace, including Javerlhac, and added multispectral images of the ChemCam LIBS target "Rampieux" and of a target “Prats de Carlux” just outside of the workspace.

Once our early morning science goals are met, we will drive onwards. Our current driving path takes us close to and then between a series of buttes (similar to mesas). Some environmental activities round out the plan, monitoring dust in the atmosphere, and looking for dust devils.