MISSION UPDATES | November 21, 2022

Sols 3660-3664: An Early Start to a Long Weekend

Written by Natalie Moore, Mission Operations Specialist at Malin Space Science Systems
This image shows the Curiosity rover's tracks on sol 3658 and was taken by the left navigation camera.

This image was taken by Left Navigation Camera onboard NASA's Mars rover Curiosity on Sol 3658. Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech. Download image ›

On a usual week of Curiosity operations, Friday plans take the longest since they span the whole weekend. This rare Monday morning, however, we’re planning five sols to start covering Tuesday - Monday of operations so the team can spend Thanksgiving on Earth. When we plan a large chunk of sols like this, the first couple sols are lightweight with minimal risk activities from environmental sensors like RAD and REMS. This time those are Sols 3660 and 3661, so Tuesday and Wednesday will be pretty quiet in Gale while we catch up on downlinking old data. Any remote sensing activities from instruments like Mastcam and ChemCam will kick off on the third sol (Thursday), and for safety reasons we're waiting until the last sol (Saturday) to plan any arm activities. For example, any faults that occurred wouldn’t be mitigated until at least Tuesday, and it would not be ideal for MAHLI to be stuck with her dust cover open near the surface for sols at a time! As part of the MAHLI uplink team today I was aware of this constraint and knew we’d have only a single sol available for planning today.

We began planning with news of a successful ~46 meter drive back towards the Mount Sharp Ascent Route (MSAR) from our detour to image the Gediz Vallis Ridge (GVR). Probably the last view of the GVR we’ll have for quite some time, the past few weeks were spent taking lots of Mastcam images and ChemCam Remote Micro-Images (RMIs). Abby Fraeman wrote about the reasoning behind this detour in the Veteran’s Day blog from 10 days ago. Since we’re now traversing on a “paved" road back to the MSAR and Marker Band valley, the weekend drive was easier to plan and even included Full MAHLI Wheel Imaging (FMWI). This is when we get MAHLI out during the drive and image all wheels from five small bumps, something we haven’t done since June. Last plan’s mobility Rover Planner, Keri Bean, described the process behind Full MAHLI Wheel Imaging and why we do them in the last blog. Taking a look at this weekend's downlink, it’s amazing to see what over 29 kilometers and 10 years on Mars can do: MAHLI image of our left middle wheel! The engineers will analyze these images in the coming days, but their last analysis suggested we should be able to drive many more kilometers on these wheels.

The first opportunity for remote sensing is on Sol 3662 and includes ~60 Mastcam stereo frames of our view back to the MSAR and hills beyond Marker Band valley. ChemCam is taking the early opportunity and shooting five laser spots on our workspace block at a target named “Urutai,” as well as an RMI of the GVR while we still have the view. Sol 3663 has more opportunities for remote sensing and kicks off with a second round of ChemCam laser spots on another workspace block target named “Lontra” and another RMI of dry channels in the distance near the GVR. Mastcam will follow with 20 more stereo frames of our nearby rock textures and tones before sunset (reminder that sunsets on Mars are blue!!). Finally, Sol 3664 is where things really get moving with a third nearby ChemCam laser target “Purue,” yet another RMI of distant hills from our past, and the arm activities.

Our arm activities include using our Dust Removal Tool (DRT) on a bright vein target named “Poraque” and letting APXS sniff the dust-cleared spot after MAHLI images it from ~25, 5, and 2 cm away. We’re also prepping a target named “Los Tranques” for DRT in tomorrow’s plan by getting 25 cm and 5 cm MAHLI images before letting APXS sniff it, dust and all. Mastcam is also included in the arm activities today for imaging her cousin camera MAHLI. Every ~120 sols or so MAHLI requests Mastcam high-resolution images of MAHLI's dust cover. These images are some of the highest resolution Mastcam is capable of at ~1.6 meters away for focus. Check out this one from Sol 3541! Since Martian dust is magnetic, these images also show how much dust is accumulating on the cover's magnet over time.

Tomorrow we’ll be planning the last two sols of our holiday weekend, Sunday and Monday, which includes a drive away from our Thanksgiving site and resumption of our normal planning schedule. I’ll be blogging on our first plan back next Monday as well, and on a personal note I’m feeling very thankful for this incredible mission I get to be a part of and my team members who inspire me every sol. I’ll be thinking of our hardy rover all weekend as I watch Mars rise in the east each night, somehow feeling close even at 52 million miles away.