Making Tracks On Mars


NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity is starting to make tangible progress across the surface of Gale Crater as it gets set to begin ‘touch science’ investigations of the surrounding rock and soil enroute to its initial Glenelg target area.

For the moment the rover has come to a halt while operators at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena start the second and final phase of instrument check out on the robotic arm. Curiosity remains in position after traveling 268 ft away from the ‘Bradbury Landing’ touch down site.

Curiosity and its tracks, clearly visible from the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter

The rover, which continues to be in good health, is about a quarter of the way to Glenelg where it will conduct science investigations in an area where three types of terrain intersect. However, assuming the check out of the instruments on Curiosity’s robotic arm goes as planned, the rover team says it may stop on its way to analyze suitably fine-grained rocks or loose soil along the way.

Curiosity's progress so far and (right) its first major science destination -- Glenelg

The characterization activity phase (CAP) 2 is focused on checking out the tools and movement of the tools on the arm. These are all critical to Curiosity’s main mission of looking for signs of past or present life on the planet and include the drill for acquiring powdered samples from inside rocks as well as an Alpha Particle X-ray Spectrometer (APXS). The arm also houses a sample processing subsystem called Chimra (Collection and Handling for In-Situ Martian Rock Analysis), as well as a dust removal tool and the Mars Hand Lens Imager (Mahli) which can focus on grain sizes as small as talcum powder.

Smile please! Curiosity takes a self-portrait of its robotic arm, camera and tool-set

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