MISSION UPDATES | March 29, 2023

Sol 3785: Tiptoeing Through the Tricky Terrain

Written by Lucy Thompson, Planetary Geologist at University of New Brunswick
The seam-corrected mosaic provides a 360-degree cylindrical projection panorama of the Martian surface centered at 207 degrees azimuth (measured clockwise from north).

NASA's Mars rover Curiosity took 31 images in Gale Crater using its mast-mounted Right Navigation Camera (Navcam) to create this mosaic. Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech. Download image ›

Signs of spring are all around as most of us come on shift from various locations within the northern hemisphere today. We still have thick snow on the ground here in eastern Canada, but the sounds of melting snow and bird song are all around. Meanwhile on Mars, we may not be tiptoeing through the tulips, but we are certainly, very carefully, tiptoeing our way through the many loose blocks and sand that line the pass we are currently driving through. A further consideration is that we are rapidly nearing a flight software update, planned for next week. We therefore need to ensure that the rover is in a good location for communication with the orbiters that relay all the information to and from Curiosity.

The rover engineers did an excellent job with the previous drive, placing Curiosity in a position to be able to brush and analyze a representative bedrock block. The brushed, finely laminated and nodular “Tarilandia” target will be analyzed by APXS, MAHLI and Mastcam to document composition and texture and ChemCam and Mastcam will investigate the chemistry and texture of another bedrock block (“Inini”) within the workspace. We will acquire a number of Mastcam and RMI images of potential contacts between different units, as well as to document textures and structures within exposed bedrock.

Not to be left out, the environmental science team also planned a full set of activities to continue monitoring the atmosphere. These include a Mastcam basic tau observation, as well as a Navcam line of sight image, and dust devil and suprahorizon movies.

After we have completed all that science, Curiosity will hopefully tiptoe and zig-zag through the blocks and sand to put us in a good position for our software update and to resume science observations when we return to planning next week. Standard REMS, DAN and RAD activities round out the plan.

This is our last full plan before we wind down science activities on Friday to prepare to install a new version of the rover’s flight software next week. The engineering team has been preparing for a few years to develop the software, upload it, and now switch over to it on Mars. We will let the engineers do their jobs on Monday through Thursday of next week and if all goes well, we’ll be back up and running after that!