Curiosity Front Hazard Avoidance Camera image taken on Sol 2544, October 3, 2019.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech



NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover is now wrapping up Sol 2546 duties.

Reports Dawn Sumner, a planetary geologist at the University of California Davis, last Wednesday the rover did not receive its planned to-do list. A Deep Space Network problem required scientists to respond to the loss of all the robot activities, deciding which to leave undone and which to re-plan.

Curiosity Chemistry & Camera (ChemCam) RMI photo acquired on Sol 2544, October 3, 2019.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/LANL

“It turns out that it wasn’t too hard to merge the lost plan and our intended weekend plan – if we postponed emptying the sample out of Curiosity’s drill,” Sumner adds.

Two plans into one

As the “Long Term Planner” for this set of sols, Sumner helped evaluate the implications of postponing this activity on what the rover can do next week. “The team decided it was worth waiting to empty the sample, so we focused on merging two plans into one,” Sumner notes.

Curiosity Mast Camera Left photo acquired on Sol 2544, October 2, 2019.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

The activities from the Sol 2545 plan that we re-planned include: the SAM (Sample Analysis at Mars) gas chromatograph column clean-up; the Chemistry and Camera (ChemCam) Remote Micro Imager (RMI) photo of “Stony Side 2;” and ChemCam laser-induced breakdown spectroscopy (LIBS) analyses of a wide white vein called “Bighouse” and a pebble called “Sliddery,” with the robot’s Mastcam documentation images.

Curiosity Right Navigation Camera B image taken on Sol 2544, October 2, 2019.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Cold season

“The old environmental observations were not re-planned because the team had some particularly interesting environmental observation opportunities in the weekend plan,” Sumner explains. “Specifically, Curiosity is experiencing a cold season with relatively high humidity, so we planned a set of activities to see if frost is present on the soil right before sunrise.”

Right Navigation Camera B image acquired on Sol 2544, October 3, 2019.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

These activities include a ChemCam passive sky observation during the day to characterize atmospheric conditions, followed the next morning by pre-dawn ChemCam LIBS analyses of nearby soil to measure the hydrogen signature.

Look for clouds

“The team chose the spot carefully and did a preliminary analysis to ensure good focus even in the dark,” Sumner says. “The pre-dawn LIBS observation will be followed by a Navcam atmospheric movie to look for clouds within 15 minutes of sunrise. A little later after sunrise, more atmospheric characterization is planned, including measuring the opacity of the atmosphere toward the horizon and upward, as well as taking various movies to understand winds and cloud formation.”

Curiosity’s Rover Environmental Monitoring Station (REMS) will also provide wind data and air and ground temperatures.

“These suites of observations, planned in coordination,” Sumner concludes, “provide particularly valuable insights into atmospheric dynamics within Gale Crater.”

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