MISSION UPDATES | September 25, 2023

Sols 3957-3959: Curiosity the Cautious Rover!

Written by Catherine O'Connell-Cooper, Planetary Geologist at University of New Brunswick
Left Navcam image taken on sol 3955 by the Curiosity rover, showing the LIBS target “Thor Valley” on the left hand side.

Left Navcam, sol 3955, showing the LIBS target “Thor Valley” on the left hand side. Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech. Download image ›

Earth planning day: Friday, September 22, 2023

When I opened the workspace imagery this morning, I was happy to see some nice big rock outcrops in reach of the rover and started to pick some nice targets for contact science with APXS, before realizing that one of the rear wheels is perched on a rock. Sure enough, the drive had cut short when the rover detected it had driven over an unexpectedly large rock. The terrain here is tough, lots of boulders to clamber over. Sometimes the rover detects that the boulders are a problem and cuts the drive short, to await further instructions from Earth and avoid any damage. We are all eager to get onto the next workspace, and these unexpected stops can be frustrating, but stops like these have helped keep Curiosity safe and roving for over 11 years now.

Fortunately, this is nearly always an excess of caution on the part of Curiosity and doesn’t involve any fancy footwork (wheelwork?!) to get going again. This was the case today, and we were able to plan to recover the rest of the 28 metre drive. We will get there eventually, and thanks to our cautious Martian rover, in one piece!

Unfortunately, having the rear wheel perched on a boulder meant that getting the arm out for contact science was considered to be an unnecessary risk, so the APXS and MAHLI teams got to stand down and start their weekend early. As ChemCam does not need to move the arm to analyze, the ChemCam team planned two LIBS activities (using the laser) looking at some small features in the rocks. We have been seeing lots of thin platy resistant features in recent workspaces, such as this one “Little Pothole Lake” from sol 3955. The ChemCam team members were happy to be close enough to get LIBS on “Hammil Valley,” a thin fin or edge of a platy layer on the left-hand side of the workspace. In contrast, the second LIBS target (“Thor Valley”) analyses some remnants of what appears to be a thicker resistant layer. You can see these on the large light toned block on the left-hand side of the Navcam image for this blog. These will also be imaged by Mastcam to provide colour images of the two targets. ChemCam will take an RMI (remote image) of some amazing sedimentary layering in “Whaleback,” about seven metres away from the rover. Mastcam will image the upper Gediz Vallis ridge, looking at the path ahead along the MSAR (Mount Sharp Ascent Route) and as part of the ongoing campaign to characterise this ridge. Mastcam will then take a nearfield (i.e., close to the workspace) mosaic of a trough, looking at its geometry and the way the sand is distributed across the trough.

Keeping the arm stowed does not limit environmental monitoring activities - it can actually allow the environmental theme group (ENV) to add even more activities, so today ENV have a very busy plan. There are several Navcam activities, including suprahorizon and zenith movies, a “sky survey” and a large dust devil survey. In addition to these (plus more routine DAN and REMS activities), there is a special SAM methane experiment at dawn of the third sol.

Hopefully, our 28 metre drive will execute successfully, and when I open Monday’s workspace, I will see a fantastic new workspace!