WASHINGTON – After driving the length of a football field, the Curiosity rover is being readied by NASA managers to begin “contact science” on the surface of Mars.
In what amounts to Curiosity’s first pit stop, mission scientists said Thursday (Sept. 6) they are checking out the rover’s robotic arm, sampling system and a high-resolution camera after the rover’s first excursion from its landing site. So far, Curiosity has driven about a third of the way to a geologically interesting area about 400 meters from its landing site called Glenelg.
The Mini Cooper-sized rover continues to perform flawlessly, said Michael Watkins, Curiosity mission manager at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. "There have been no wild cards, no anomalies” so far, Watkins said. "The real wild card is how well it works."
Matt Robinson, lead engineer for Curiosity's robotic arm testing and operations, said his team is completing final checkout of the rover’s robotic arm, a procedure designed to calibrate the motion of its five joints. The arm is controlled by five actuators that approximate the motions of the human arm. It also carries two spare drill bits, Robinson said.
Once check out of the robotic arm and sampling system are complete, Curiosity will resume its drive to Glenelg to conduct what mission managers referred to as “contact science,” first scooping up Martian soil for analysis, then drilling into basaltic rock in search of evidence that Mars once provided conditions suitable for microbial life.
Tracks from the first drives of NASA's Curiosity rover are visible in this image captured by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. The rover is seen where the tracks end. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Arizona)
The drive to Glenelg is expected to take several weeks, depending on what Curiosity encounters along the way. Then, managers said, the rover will turn around and head for the main objective of the Mars mission: the central peak of Gale Crater known as Mount Sharp. The trek to Mount Sharp will take months even if, as expected, it averages about 100 meters a Martian day, or sol.
Then, in the foothills of a huge Martian peak, the solar geology of this astounding mission will begin in earnest.Related stories:
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