WASHINGTON – A damaged wind sensor is the first setback for the otherwise nearly flawless mission of the Mars Curiosity rover.
NASA managers believe one of two “mini-booms” containing sensors to track weather conditions at Gale Crater might have been damaged during the Aug. 6 descent and landing. The finger-like mini-boom extended out from the rover’s folded mast during landing. Initial investigations found pebbles and small rocks on the rover’s deck after landing, presumably part of the rocket plume created as a sky crane lowered the rover to the surface of Mars.
While evidence about the damage remains “circumstantial,” Ashwin Vasavada, MSL deputy project scientist, said Tuesday (Aug. 21) that delicate wires on circuit boards that make up the wind sensor were likely damaged by swirling dust and pebbles. However, another inward-facing weather sensor is “operating perfectly,” said Javier Gomez-Elvira, principal investigator for the weather sensor, the Rover Environmental Monitoring Station, or REMS.
A NASA engineer's hands are just below one of the REMS mini-booms in this image.
The other mini-boom extends to the left a little farther up the mast. One of the booms facing outward during Curiosity's landing on Mars is believed to have damage by pebbles kicked up by rocket thrusters. (Source: NASA/JPL-Caltech)
Since Curiosity carries redundant REMS mini-booms, Vasavada said the loss of the second sensor will result in “just a little bit of ambiguity in terms of wind direction.” He added that the damage is one of the risk scientists understood when they mounted delicate scientific instruments on the rover.
Meanwhile, nearly every other aspect of the Mars mission is performing flawlessly, NASA managers at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory reported. A “wheel wiggle” test
of the rovers four steering wheels on Monday (Aug. 20) went off without a hitch, and controllers will send commands overnight Tuesday for Curiosity to make its first short drive: about 3 meters forward (the length of the rover), stop and execute a 120-degree turn to the right, then back up far enough to see the rover’s footprint on Mars when it landed.
The test drive should take about 30 minutes if all goes as planned, said Mars Science Laboratory mission manager Michael Watkins.
Louise Jandura, the lead engineer for Curiosity’s surface sampling equipment, said the rover’s robotics arm was deployed earlier this week and all five joints were tested for basic motions. The next step is calibrating the arm to operate in the lower gravity of Mars. A Swiss Army knife-like suite of instruments at the end of Curiosity’s robotic arm, including a drill to take core samples, weighs about 30 kg, Jandura said.
Curiosity rover's first tracks on Mars (Source: NASA/JPL-Caltech)
Curiosity rover tracks from above. Blast scour from landing rocket thruster can be seen at top of image. Source: NASA/JPL-Caltech)
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