Sols 3464-3465: All the Science in Half the Time

Written by Michelle Minitti, Planetary Geologist at Framework
This image was taken by Front Hazard Avoidance Camera (Front Hazcam) onboard NASA's Mars rover Curiosity on Sol 3463.

This image was taken by Front Hazard Avoidance Camera (Front Hazcam) onboard NASA's Mars rover Curiosity on Sol 3463. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech. Download image ›

We have cleared the “Greenheugh pediment” and the mix of sandy, steep, and rough terrain that challenged our drives up and down it. However, we are finding that as we make our way up Mount Sharp along a new route, some of the same driving gremlins are with us. Yesterday’s drive made it just about all the way to its endpoint, but Curiosity encountered higher than expected tilts as she attempted to turn toward our desired heading to enable clear communications with Earth via our high gain antenna. The turn did not complete, so direct communication with Curiosity via the high gain antenna was blocked. The current relative positions of Earth and Mars plus the pediment and scenic buttes around us give us fewer heading options for direct communication, so we are less robust to a missed turn here or a drive fault there. That meant that we had to wait until the morning of Sol 3465 to communicate with Curiosity another way - through one of the many orbiters circling Mars that we use to send our data to Earth. As such, Curiosity will chill on Sol 3464, but then spring into action on Sol 3465 with the plethora of activities the science team planned today.

The science team was certainly undaunted by having only one sol to plan when we were expecting two. We did our best to cram in just about everything we wanted! APXS was the odd instrument out, as the dusty bedrock and less-ideal integration time available for them led them to take a pass on the workspace. APXS’s usual science partner, MAHLI, had rocks to look at, in particular the nice layered block visible about halfway up the front Hazcam image above. MAHLI will acquire a mosaic across the layers centered on target “Firina,” and will then zoom in to look at the rock texture at target “Bartica.” ChemCam will also shoot the layers of that layered block at the target “Rio Mucajai.” Mastcam will image two large buttes - the one looming to our left ahead of us, and “Mirador” butte - both of which we have imaged from different positions previously. Imaging them from a different perspective can really clarify the orientations of the structures within the buttes, and those orientations are often key to understanding the processes that formed those rocks. Mastcam will also image a set of newly-visible structures in the terrain below Mirador butte, centered on the target “Akopan dal Cin.” REMS, RAD, and DAN run throughout the sol.

With our data in hand, we will drive further up the slope in front of us, alongside the large butte we imaged today. Here’s hoping the terrain is more forgiving!