17 August 2017
I was the Surface Properties Scientist, or SPS, on staff today. After completing a successful drive back to the strategic route to continue up the Vera Rubin Ridge, Curiosity arrived at a workspace filled with sand and a lone rock outcrop dubbed ‘Dumplings Island‘ seen in the center of the included image. This rock outcrop was the focus of most of today’s planned activities, including high resolution microscopic imaging with the Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) to characterize the outcrop’s particle size and small scale textures. In addition Alpha Particle X-Ray Spectrometer (APXS) and ChemCam observations were planned to understand the composition of this rock outcrop, providing another important compositional data point as Curiosity traverses the Vera Rubin Ridge stratigraphy. The rover to passed its Slip Risk Assessment Process (SRAP) with flying colors, which was needed to carry out the arm-based activities in today’s plan. After finishing the drive to the current location, Curiosity ended up on a relatively flat spot with its wheels in good contact with the sandy surface that likely overlies bedrock. As such, the likelihood of rover wheel slippage due to arm activities was judged to be very low.
Given the strong desire to continue to drive up the Vera Rubin Ridge, there was a tradeoff between extending the duration of science activities and extending the planned drive. As the plan was already quite busy, no additional science duration was able to be allocated and the rover only got a few more minutes of drive time. In all, there wasn’t much wiggle room in today’s plan! Not much additional imaging, other than that required to characterize the compositional targets, made it in to the plan either.
The path for the coming sols should follow our predefined strategic route closely as there’s a lower slope gap in the steep cliffs of the Vera Rubin Ridge that makes for a safe path to the top. It should be an exciting next few days of planning with some great views once Curiosity makes it to the top of the ridge and can look out over the path that’s been driven in the past 5 years of Mars surface operations.
Written by Christopher Edwards, Planetary Geologist at Northern Arizona University