8 December 2018

Sol 2254-2255: Thinking on Our Wheels

Posted by Ryan Anderson

This Navcam image shows the outcrop of red Jura rock that the rover will image during the weekend drive. Obtaining higher resolution images of this exposure will help the team determine if it could be drilled next week.

Today was one of those planning days when you realize the importance of being able to adapt quickly and think on your feet (i.e., wheels) when operating a rover on Mars. Our previous plan brought us to the Lothian E area, where we hoped to find an exposure of red Jura rock that was suitable for drilling. Unfortunately, the bedrock at this location appeared just as fractured as at the previous site, forcing the team to rethink the weekend plan.

The new possibilities included trying to drill a very small portion of the outcrop at Lothian E, do a short ‘bump’ to another possible candidate in the near vicinity, or give up on this site and head in the direction of our long-term strategic route. Making these tactical decisions requires a lot of quick thinking; the team must weigh immediate scientific priorities with long-term goals, and must try to determine the best potential drill target with limited data. We never know exactly what we will find when we arrive at a new site, so the best we can do is use long distance imaging and lessons learned from previous sites to make an educated decision on where to send the rover next.

Ultimately, the team decided to spend one sol doing contact science at this location and then drive in the direction of our long-term strategic route. Observations at Lothian E will include Chemcam observations of bedrock targets ‘Blackfort Hill,’ ‘Woodhill,’ and ‘Dalziel,’ as well as Mastcam multispectral images of ‘Woodhill’ and ‘Newburgh’ targets. We also planned MAHLI and APXS measurements on ‘Woodhill’ (after brushing) and ‘Springside’. During the drive away, we will acquire a somewhat unconventional set of mid-drive observations on another exposure of red Jura rock. Hopefully this plan will put us in a good position on Monday to either drill the new outcrop or continue on our strategic path.

Written by Mariah Baker, Planetary Geologist at Johns Hopkins University