30 November 2017
Even before we started planning today’s activities, we knew there would be a chance that we would be limited on the amount of data returned to Earth following the previous drive. This turned out to be true, as a data relay from the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter did not make it down to JPL in time for us to have full Navcam imaging coverage of the area surrounding the rover and in the drive direction. Fortunately, the limited data availability did not significantly influence our capabilities for the day, which is a true testament to the science team, rover planners, and everyone involved in the daily operations!
As the data that are available do not show great bedrock exposures, and because utilizing Curiosity’s arm would have likely required all of the data to be downlinked, the science team decided to focus on remote analyses in the immediate vicinity of the rover and then to hit the road for our next stop on Vera Rubin Ridge. The science plan includes long-distance remote imaging with the ChemCam instrument, as well as a Mastcam calibration image and documentation of the automatically selected ChemCam active target executed in the previous plan. Mastcam will also take a multispectral image of the region where Curiosity will be headed over the next few days, in an effort to fully characterize the spectral diversity of this location and to compare with orbital remote sensing data.
Curiosity will then continue her drive to the southeast, headed for a unique patch of terrain that appears interesting in high-resolution orbital data. The hope is to reach this unit on this drive, as that will allow the science team to investigate this interesting region over the duration of the weekend’s plan. Because we didn’t receive the Navcam data necessary for the rover planners to fully plan the drive, Curiosity will undertake a ‘guarded drive,’ where she will autonomously assess the safety of the path ahead and stop the drive if necessary. This is one of those options that is only made available to the mission thanks to the incredible skills of the rover planners and those who developed the mobility software! Following her drive, Curiosity will take her standard sequence of post-drive imaging for targeting, ChemCam will automatically acquire data from a nearby bedrock target, and Mastcam and Navcam will both make environmental and atmospheric observations.
This is only a one-sol plan, as tomorrow is a ‘soliday‘ on Mars. So, the science team will pick up planning on Friday, having completed one day’s drive and science operations, and hoping for the opportunity for a weekend full of measurements of this interesting region ahead!
LATE BREAKING NEWS: The MRO data ended up arriving just in time to plan a normal drive after all! No need to invoke the ‘guarded drive’ option, although having this capability nearly saved the day!
Written by Dr. Mark Salvatore, Planetary Geologist at University of Michigan