The crew that landed the Curiosity rover takes part in Friday's NASA press briefing from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California. On Thursday, discussion focused on new images from Mars, including a 360 degree panoramic view taken by the rover's mast camera. The team also described the complex task of coordinating the competing scientific and engineering goals set for the Mars Science Lab.
Pointing to the "beautiful knolls" of the Dale Crater, University of California, Davis scientist Dawn Sumner said the geological layers, clearly visible in the panoramic image, were the main target of the rover and explained how the careful analysis of the landscape, based on Odyssey satellite imagery, will determine the rover's route to the crater walls and Mount Sharp.
When asked by reporters if there was any scientific interest in the plumes dug up by the sky crane's retro rockets, Sumner enthusiastically confirmed that there was much discussion about pursuing Curiosity's original mission and studying the environment around the landing site.
MSL Manager Michael Watkins told reporters that Curiosity spent "another fantastic day on Mars" and described ongoing health checks of the rover's instrument systems. Watkins also explained how an essential upgrade to Curiosity's operating system would optimize the mobile lab for surface operations and improve the volume and quality of images uploaded from the rover.
Integrated Planning and Execution Team Chief Andy Mishkin described the complex coordination of the project's engineering and scientific demands, given that the team only has two chances per day to communicate with Curiosity. The rover requires over 1,000 commands in order to perform its daily tasks.
Another high point of the briefing was a discussion by Doug Ellison, Visualization Producer, of "Eyes on the Solar System," an online animation program that gives users a "Google Earth"-like experience of the rover in the martian landscape. Ellison said that users made over 973,000 visits to the site.
Wednesday, August 8
NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) released more breathtaking images of Mars from the Curiosity rover, including one remarkably like the landscape of the Mojave desert.
Speaking to reporters from JPL's facility in Pasadena, California, scientists discussed new images downloaded from the Mars Science Lab and images taken from the Odyssey orbiter, including one showing the impact site of tungsten ballasts ejected before the rover's parachute deployed.
Responding to questions from the media, John Grotzinger, a scientist from the California Institute of Technology, characterized the scientific potential of the landing site as very high and pointed to information about the martian surface already revealed in images of the soil impressions dug by the sky crane's retro rockets during landing.
Tests of the rover's equipment, including radiation detectors and temperature measuring devices, continue. The panel also revealed that the temperature of Mars was higher than expected, but indicated that this was an advantage, not an problem.
As for test driving the rover, Grotzinger said that it could be moved a few meters at any time to better deploy the mast. "All our options are open," he added.
Tuesday, August 7
Scientists at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, briefed reporters today on the first round of tests conducted on the Curiosity rover, which successfully landed on Mars early yesterday morning. The highlight of the briefing, however, was the release of the first color photo taken by the rover which was greeted with applause from the reporters.
Other images, taken by the orbiting Odyssey satellite, detailed the terrain surrounding the rover and the location of the parachute, the heat shield and the debris pattern left where the sky crane collided with the ground. Sarah Millkovich, Science Planning Systems Engineer for JPL, identified the image as the "crime scene photo."
According to Millkovich, Curiosity is roughly 12 kilometers from Mount Sharp, which it will eventually scale as it takes test samples of the martian soil.
Mike Watkins, Navigation and Mission Design Section Manager, told reporters that the Mars Science Lab team was still "pretty excited" on the day after the successful landing and that the team was adjusting to its new work schedule based on Mars time. Watkins reviewed a list of tests conducted on the rover, indicating that with the exception of one failed procedure, the antenna, the remote sensing mast and other equipment were functioning as expected.
Press briefings continue on Wednesday.
Monday, August 6
The parachute descent of NASA's Curiosity rover was captured by a satellite orbiting Mars, scientists revealed during today's press briefing on the state of the Mars Science Lab, which landed on the red planet early Monday morning.
The images were taken by the Mars orbiter Odyssey, one of two satellites transmitting data collected by Curiosity. In addition, the scientists also described images taken from one of Curiosity's "haz cams," cameras mounted near the vehicle's steering mechanisms. These images highlighted the similar granularity of dust on the surface near the vehicle and the perimeter walls of the Dale Crater, where the rover landed.
Scientists are hoping to determine the chemical composition of the Martian surface and discover whether "wet" areas in the landing crater ever supported microbial life. The rover's nuclear generator is expected to keep the vehicle up and running for 23 months as it gathers soil samples from various locations around Mount Sharp and Dale Crater.
The panel, speaking to the news media at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California, gave the one-ton roving laboratory a good bill of health, but cautioned that the deployment of Curiosity would be slow and deliberate. The vehicle is expected to take its first, tentative drive of a meter or two, within a few weeks.
On Tuesday, Mission Control at JPL holds a press briefing to report on preliminary tests of Curiosity's performance in the martian environment.