MISSION UPDATES | September 22, 2023

Sols 3955-3956: Curiosity Needs an Altitude Adjustment

Written by Michael Battalio, Planetary Climatologist at Yale University
This image was taken by Right Navigation Camera onboard NASA's Mars rover Curiosity on Sol 3952.

This image was taken by Right Navigation Camera onboard NASA's Mars rover Curiosity on Sol 3952. Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech. Download image ›

Earth planning date: Wednesday, September 20, 2023

Curiosity speeds towards an exciting new region, specifically close to an area that, from orbit, has visible light and dark banding. Our hope is that within a few more drives we may find a new target for Curiosity to drill. In preparation for an exciting new campaign of drilling, the team will be performing contact science on nearby bedrock. Unfortunately, over the last two sols, Curiosity temporarily did not know its orientation, so it could not safely move its arm or mast or drive. As a result, some imaging and arm activities were prevented, and the drive planned on Monday was not performed. Fortunately, the engineering team understands these sorts of issues since they have happened and been recovered from before. Hiccups like this are not dangerous themselves, as they instead protect the rover. As a result, Curiosity remained in the same location from earlier in the week.

Nevertheless, the team took this opportunity to further study several targets first targeting in the plan on Monday and repeat the activities that were not performed due to the issues. MAHLI will image "Sugarloaf," composed of bedrock, and "Toms Place" to look at stratification. ChemCAM will also look at "Little Pothole Lake" and take long distance imaging of the Gediz Vallis ridge (see the recent press release on Curiosity reaching this milestone location). Finally on the second sol of this plan, Curiosity will take dust devil and cloud movies.

Not only is the team managing and troubleshooting the rover issues and preparing a new drill campaign but also looking much further ahead to the solar conjunction, whereby Mars passes behind the sun. During these three or so weeks, which will be in November this year, contact with Curiosity will be minimal, so the craft is on its own; however, planning for this event continued today to select all the activities for Curiosity to complete. Though limited in the kinds of activities in this low-contact period, Curiosity will remain busy.