MISSION UPDATES | May 18, 2022

Sols 3478-3479: Everyone Wants a Piece of This Pie

Written by Natalie Moore
This image was taken by Left Navigation Camera onboard NASA's Mars rover Curiosity on Sol 3476.

This image was taken by Left Navigation Camera onboard NASA's Mars rover Curiosity on Sol 3476. Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech. Download image ›

Despite the incredibly rough terrain surrounding Mirador butte, our nearly 10-year-old rover successfully drove a net distance forward ~10 meters and ~2 meters in elevation! To get a sense of what our Rover Planners try to avoid navigating this terrain, check out this Navcam image of our left front wheel at our parking spot.

This image was taken by Left Navigation Camera onboard NASA's Mars rover Curiosity on Sol 3476.
This image was taken by Left Navigation Camera onboard NASA's Mars rover Curiosity on Sol 3476. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech. Download image ›

Not only did the Sol 3476 drive succeed, but placed us perfectly in front of the most beautiful laminated outcrop, a true canvas of Martian art painted by nature herself. Evidence of possible cross-bedding and fine-scale laminations here are so interesting there was an initial question of whether we should stay for extra contact science opportunities or keep with our plan to drive away on the first sol of this plan. It was decided to keep our drive planned for Sol 3478, which sparked an energized discussion on which types of science we could fit in the limited time we have before continuing forward in the afternoon. Questions of which activities would provide the most useful science were vehemently discussed: Should we prioritize using our Dust Removal Tool to wipe away the atmospheric dust that blocks our view of grain-size? Or would using our DRT damage the undisturbed bedrock laminations and ruin a close-up view from MAHLI? Although scientists were certainly interested in the grain-size of this unit, getting those measurements from MAHLI images at this heading would most likely need low-level lighting from the afternoon sun: a seemingly impossible task as we’ve kept our plan to drive away in the afternoon.

NASA's Mars rover Curiosity took 2 images in Gale Crater using its mast-mounted Right Navigation Camera (Navcam) to create this mosaic. Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech. Download image ›

In the end, the heat fell on our dedicated Rover Planners who decided to try for all of it. First, APXS will do a short morning sniff of the laminated bedrock target we chose and named “Las Claritas." Then, MAHLI will do the limbo to take a 6-frame angled mosaic surrounding Las Claritas to hopefully catch cross-bedding, and finally we’ll use our DRT on the target itself and do a MAHLI “full-suite” for grain-size which includes images of Las Claritas from 25 cm, 5 cm, and 2 cm away. Besides this full sol of arm activities, Mastcam is also planning a stereo mosaic surrounding Las Claritas and two large farther-field mosaics covering the many outcrops around us, in addition to a host of other Mastcam images to document the state of our DRT and other instrument activity attempts. ChemCam is planning to shoot their laser for spectrometry on a bedrock target nearby named “Maturin” and a micro image mosaic on a layered outcrop ~5 meters away. Our planned drive is for ~30 meters generally south, putting us near the south-east corner of Mirador butte for more science! While we wait for our drive data to come down to earth, our rover will take environmental observations of the sky to monitor dust activity and ChemCam will autonomously choose a target for a second laser spectrometry observation at our new location. From the entire team’s hard work, everyone is getting a piece of the Martian pie this time!

This image was taken by Mars Descent Imager (MARDI) onboard NASA's Mars rover Curiosity on Sol 3474.
This image was taken by Mars Descent Imager (MARDI) onboard NASA's Mars rover Curiosity on Sol 3474. Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS. Download image ›

My role this plan as MAHLI/MARDI Payload Uplink Lead #2 includes creating and delivering the sequences that hold our imaging commands for the MAHLI and MARDI cameras. If you’re wondering why I’m commanding two cameras, it’s because MARDI activities usually include but a single snapshot of the ground below our left middle wheel, like this one from Sol 3474. She is continuing this streak after our drive and sunset on Sol 3478. My main squeeze today is MAHLI, delivering 7 MAHLI sequences for this plan and commanding MAHLI to take 73 images for best focus (not including subframes). Just for fun: here’s a Navcam look at MAHLI taking her images of the Sol 3476 target “Aratana," and the corresponding MAHLI image taken from ~15 cm away.