9 October 2017
When you take a step back and think about all of the things that must go right in order to perform scientific investigations on the surface of Mars, it’s hard to believe that we EVER get things accomplished! It also means that seemingly minor issues can lead to significant delays and complications when it comes to developing science plans, commanding the rover, and gathering the collected data. Today was one of those instances when a seemingly minor issue here on Earth significantly influenced our abilities on Mars.
Earlier this morning, as the science team was assembling to select targets of interest and to populate our block of time dedicated to science with observations and analyses, our communications and ability to develop and send commands to the Jet Propulsion Laboratory was disrupted. Specifically, the communications and data transfer between JPL and the team that commands the majority of the high resolution cameras, including Mastcam, MAHLI, and MARDI, was disrupted. This often happens to me when I’m trying to watch my New York Mets play baseball, so I know just how frustrating it can be! Unfortunately, this also sometimes happens when critical data transfers and communications for rover planning must also take place. So, the science plan for the next two days must be adjusted to account for our inability to use Mastcam, MAHLI, and MARDI.
We are in our ‘restricted’ planning mode this week, so today’s science plan will cover two Mars days. Early tomorrow afternoon on Mars, Curiosity will analyze two targets in front of the rover, ‘Bokkeveld’ and ‘Buffalo Spring,’ using the ChemCam active laser system to assess the chemistry of these two targets. Buffalo Spring has a nodular texture, not unlike some interesting targets observed on Vera Rubin Ridge over the last few weeks. Bokkeveld is a ‘typical’ bedrock target, which will help us to understand just how different Buffalo Spring is relative to more typical basaltic targets. Later that afternoon, Curiosity will undergo some additional drill diagnostics to assess all of the great work that the engineers have been doing to get the drill capabilities back to the science team.
Early the following morning, the Navcam cameras will be used to identify and monitor local clouds. Around midday, ChemCam will make an automated measurement of a nearby rocky target as well as its titanium calibration target, and the Navcam cameras will image the surroundings and search for local dust devils. That evening, CheMin will be programmed to perform a second analysis on the Ogunquit Beach sediment sample and retrieve the data the following day.
As you can see, there is no drive scheduled during this two-day plan, so the science team will have the same view on Wednesday as they do today. Hopefully on Wednesday, we will be able to utilize all of the imaging capabilities of the rover, finish analyzing the local surroundings, and continue to make forward progress towards the top of Vera Rubin Ridge!
Written by Dr. Mark Salvatore, Planetary Geologist at University of Michigan