MISSION UPDATES | March 8, 2023

Sols 3764-3765: Don't Dream and Drive…

Written by Susanne Schwenzer, Planetary Geologist at The Open University
This image shows a Mars rock on the Martian surface and was taken by Curiosity on Sol 3762.

This image was taken by MAST_RIGHT onboard NASA's Mars rover Curiosity on Sol 3762. Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS. Download image ›

What a contrast! When I look to my right, snow is accumulating on my window (yes, I am under the roof, if you are wondering) and in front of me are pictures of a beautiful red landscape! I am sure you have seen this beautiful mosaic, and we are still very close to that area. Such a stunning view! And now my brain wonders if there ever was snow falling, dancing, quietly, covering it all in white, a dusting first, then, even more until it’s a white dream world? Wouldn’t it have been great to stand there, on Mars, at that time? Well, that wouldn’t just require a crewed spaceflight to Mars, it would also require time travel by … like … 4 billion years, back to a time when here on Earth there were just microbes. Well, before I write a science fiction piece here, I better get back to planning!

That planning was a little more eventful than what I would have liked, though, and required my full attention. I was Geo Science Team lead today. At the start of planning we were waiting for confirmation on a data transfer that got stuck somewhere in traffic on its way to Mars. Whenever we have to start planning without the full information on things such as rover state or returned data, we have to keep several options open, because we of course want to maximize the science that Curiosity does on Mars that next sol! That means, book-keeping a lot of ‘If … then …’-options open. But after over ten years, the team has some experience with that, and our keeper of the plan kept the overview of more than just one plan today. For me, though, the trick is to have lots of little sticky notes, and at one point my computer screen was half covered in them. But the information eventually arrived in part, and the science team received the go for planning our two-sol plan. However, we were still waiting on some pieces of information, which came in after we had put together our ChemCam and Mastcam activities. While we were working in one virtual room, engineers and the mission leadership were assessing the rover data as they came in. Finally, and unfortunately for us in the science planning room, the decision was made to be absolutely sure that the rover would be kept safe and happy, and therefore, as a precaution, all the science activities with ChemCam and Mastcam did not get included in the plan.

That does not mean the rover, which in itself is happy and healthy, will be completely idle! CheMin will get more mineralogy data for us. DAN will do its activities to investigate the water and chlorine in the underground below the rover, and REMS will do its weather measurements such as wind and temperature. Of course, data management activities feature in the plan as well. With that, a hectic, and in the end a little disappointing planning day ends, and we hand over to the next team. Well, they have a ready-made plan now! … and I can look at my window, which is now covered in snow so thickly that I cannot even see the streetlights anymore. Well, I step out of the house and feel the snow under my feet, and my mind wanders back to dreaming about Martian snow crunching under spacesuit boots… Well, would we have needed one, back when Mars had more precipitation and Gale was filled with a lake? Yes, you guessed it, I am back to time-and-space-travel dreams while I watch the snow fall and cover my garden in beautiful, peaceful white.