MISSION UPDATES | October 12, 2022

Sols 3621-3622: Planetary Power Puzzle

Written by Natalie Moore, Mission Operations Specialist at Malin Space Science Systems
MAHLI best focus image from a Sol 3605 six-frame mosaic of the “Tapirapeco” target on our drill site block.

MAHLI best focus image from a Sol 3605 six-frame mosaic of the “Tapirapeco” target on our drill site block. Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS. Download image ›

This morning’s planning kicked off with great news! Our Sol 3620 SAM data of the Canaima drill sample was interesting enough to proceed with planning a Gas Chromatograph Mass Spectrometry (GCMS) experiment. This type of activity is one of SAM’s specialties and can help characterize the chemistry of the rock we’re parked in front of, including the presence of compounds essential to life as we know it! (Necessary aside: molecular compounds considered essential to life are not biosignatures themselves and many can also be formed from geologic processes) However, planning GCMS on Mars requires a ton of power. The name of the game today was putting the power puzzle pieces together efficiently so we can still have the resources for a full weekend of planning next time (aka more remote sensing time to fill for my Mastcam uplink shift!).

For more SAM context, check out this annotated MAHLI selfie from our Mont Mercou drill campaign back in March 2021, showing what SAM looks like inside the rover and the location of SAM's inlet covers on the rover deck. For a closer view of SAM’s inlet covers, check out this Mastcam Left image of them after some of the Canaima drill sample was dropped off on Sol 3613. Safety trivia fact: while the arm does dynamic activities like dropping off sample to the rover deck, we always make sure the Remote Sensing Mast (RSM) is pointed away to avoid any drill fines blowing into the RSM’s many lenses. Drill fines are, well, finer than the sand/dust in the natural Martian environment and have a higher chance of being blown around. For this reason, we always take Mastcam high-resolution images of the drill hole after drilling and before using MAHLI on the ground again to determine if any drill hole fines have moved around.

Today’s plan includes actually opening one of the inlet covers to attempt dropping off the rest of our sample directly into SAM’s belly! Assuming all goes well, this is great news for MAHLI since she has been powered off since Drill Sol 2 on Sol 3612. Between drilling and dropping off the full sample, MAHLI/APXS ground activities are always precluded since the drill needs to be kept at a fixed orientation to avoid spillage. So as part of the MAHLI uplink team today, my job is pretty easy with no activities. Check out this throwback image of our pre-flight rover showing off her turret instruments!

For the rest of today’s power puzzle, the RSM was given ~2 hours of science time to split between ChemCam, Mastcam, and Navcam. After the experts spent some time moving activities around to get the best lighting and timing for power, we were still able to squeeze over 100 Mastcam frames in the plan! These frames will include an area we’ve imaged before to detect any changes (usually from wind), the sun and sky to continue monitoring increasing dust activity, and a lookback at the Bolivar and Deepdale buttes to document the many ChemCam Micro-Images at this drill site in color. Chemcam will shoot its laser at a target on the ground named “Vila Irabuia” for spectroscopy and take a 16-frame mosaic of distant ridges for stratigraphic investigations. Navcam will also investigate the increasing dust activity including a 9-minute movie to hopefully catch any dust devils on the horizon! Stay tuned for next plan where we’ll begin to wrap up the Canaima drill campaign so we can get back on that dusty trail.