WASHINGTON – Mission planners were expected to complete a software update on Monday (Aug. 13) that will ready the Mars rover Curiosity to begin exploring its Gale Crater landing site with it robotic arm and drill.
NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) said the planned “brain transplant” of Curiosity’s redundant main computers would allow the mobile science laboratory to transition from its flight and landing phase to surface operations. The new software was uploaded to computer memory aboard the Mars Science Laboratory spacecraft while en route to Mars. Curiosity landed on Mars on Aug. 6.
JPL said the new software will allow Curiosity to make full use of its robotic arm and drill as well as navigation aids like advanced image processing to spot obstacles while driving. Curiosity will have greater autonomy than previous rovers with its ability to identify obstacles and select safer paths to its objectives.
Once initial checks of the rover’s condition and the landing site are completed in the next few weeks, the JPL science team
will decide which surface features Curiosity will drive to.
Meanwhile, Curiosity has begun sending back high-resolution color images of Gale Crater
that bear a striking resemblance to the desert southwest of the United States. A color mosaic taken by Curiosity’s “mastcam” shows the rim of Gale Crater in the background with a channel and layered buttes in the foreground.
A panoramic view of the floor and rim of Gale Crater. (Source: JPL)
Curiosity is believed to have landed about 6.5 km northwest of Aeolis Mons, also known as Mount Sharp, the 18,000-foot central peak inside Gale Crater. The rover is believed to be resting on or near an alluvial fan that JPL geologists say was formed by flowing water.Related story:Adam Steltzner, NASA's hipster rocket engineer