MISSION UPDATES | March 6, 2024

Sols 4118-4119: Can I Have a Second Serving, Please? Oh, Me, Too!

Written by Susanne Schwenzer, Planetary Geologist at The Open University
ChemCam remote imager picture that shows some of the laser spots on the target 'Roaring River.'

ChemCam remote imager picture that shows some of the laser spots on the target “Roaring River.” This image was taken by Chemistry & Camera (ChemCam) onboard NASA's Mars rover Curiosity on Sol 4117 (2024-03-06 04:57:48 UTC). Download image ›

Earth planning date: Wednesday, March 6, 2024

Imagine you are sitting at a dining table with a few friends, and you had a small portion of delicious food, but you want some more. And instead of just helping yourself, you have to ask a friend to get it for you, but before they can do so, you’ll need to ask everyone around the table if you actually may bother your friend to do so… That’s about how the SAM team must have felt today, but it’s also not the first time they had to do it, so they knew how to ask, and of course are getting their second helping. What that means is that Curiosity is going to drill at the Mineral King site again, because the results we have so far indicate that we need to collect more sample for SAM analysis.

But that was not the only negotiation we had to do today… we also needed to accommodate a lot of interesting observations in just a tiny amount of time, which is of course impossible. The way we make these decisions is by asking: What can we do later, and what would not be the same if it had to wait? Those are interesting discussions, and they require the entire expertise of the team present. It turned out that most things can wait just a little longer, and one is looking for a change between two measurements, so, it’s even beneficial for this observation to wait a little longer. I was the Science Theme Lead for the Geology and Mineralogy planning group today, which is the role to help manage the decision making. Honestly, I am glad I am not new to the role as today felt a little bit like keeping kittens in the box (yes, you don’t always know where every single one is!). But with the excellent team on today (someone called us the ‘sporty people’), we managed to have everything lined up even before the allocated time for the Geo-planning! And here is what Curiosity will do:

With SAM’s request for more sample granted, the next two sols will be to prepare the second drill very near the Mineral King target, called “Mineral King2.” There will be the preload test – pushing on the rock with the drill bit to make sure it’s stable and doesn’t move or crack during drilling, and APXS and MAHLI on the potential new drill spot. That will take a lot of the energy available, and we’ll have very little left for other activities.

Nevertheless, ChemCam is also getting seconds, this time of a fractured target, to see if we can get more data of the fracture itself. It’s a tiny target and hard to hit, but we’ll try again and this way add to our data from Roaring River, called “Roaring River 2.” ChemCam is also adding to its long-distance imaging footage of the Texoli area. Other activities include dust devil movies and atmosphere opacity measurements, as we are in the dusty times of the martian year. DAN is measuring the water content in the ground, too, completing a full plan that makes optimal use of the resources we have available for these two sols. Let’s see how the seconds tasted when we get the data!