After more than a year in a clay-rich region, Curiosity is making a mile-long journey around some deep sand so that it can explore higher up Mount Sharp.
Stitched together from 28 images, NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover captured this view from “Greenheugh Pediment” on April 9, 2020, the 2,729th Martian day, or sol, of the mission. In the foreground is the pediment’s sandstone cap. At center is the “clay-bearing unit”; the floor of Gale Crater is in the distance.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Mast Camera image on Sol 2813 shows the view looking downhill across the clay unit, with Vera Rubin ridge” (VRR) in the background.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech



NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover is now performing Sol 2817 duties.

“Curiosity is going downhill,” reports Roger Wiens, a geochemist at Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico. “Not in the figurative sense—Curiosity’s 10 instruments all still work well, its six wheels are all doing well, and the drill has been working great for the last two years as well as earlier in the mission.”

Wiens adds that the rover’s power output is somewhat lower than when it started but, all in all, Curiosity is doing great.

Lower elevation

“No, Curiosity is just heading to a slightly lower elevation, to look for a location to potentially drill at least one more sample in the clay unit,” Wiens says. “Clay beds tend to signal habitable environments where water was present for a long time and they also tend to be good at preserving organic materials.”

Curiosity Front Hazard Avoidance Camera Right B image taken on Sol 2815, July 7, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

The drive is part of the robot’s “summer road trip” towards the sulfate unit, and will allow the team to potentially get another sample of the clay-rich region while Curiosity still has the opportunity.

Curiosity Mast Camera Left photo taken on Sol 2813, July 5, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Downhill drives

“Because Curiosity’s route has generally ascended Mt. Sharp, downhill drives of this magnitude have been rare,” Wiens explains. A little over two years ago Curiosity drove back down the front (north) side of “Vera Rubin ridge” (VRR) to pick up a drill sample of the “Blunts Point” member of the “Murray formation.”

“Early in 2019, Curiosity drove down the back (south) side of VRR into the clay unit, which is a slight depression in the side of Mt. Sharp,” Wiens adds. “And more recently, Curiosity has driven down from some buttes and down from a short excursion on “Greenheugh Pediment.” Other than that, Curiosity has been climbing most of the time.”

In the last several sols, the rover has already descended over 50 feet (16 meters) in elevation from its earlier perch on “Bloodstone Hill.”

Curiosity Mast Camera Left photo taken on Sol 2813, July 5, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Uplinked plan

In a recent uplink plan Curiosity will do several observations at its current location, then do a relatively long drive on the second sol, followed by additional observation activities, Wiens points out.

The rover’s Chemistry and Camera (ChemCam) and Mastcam will make observations of bedrock targets “Caldback” (rubbly textured) and “Portencross” (smooth).

Mastcam will also take stereo images of pebbles and of “Windy Gyle,” an outcrop to the east.

Terrain imaging

Curiosity will then take its drive — hoping to go a distance of over 328 feet (100 meters) — combining an initial drive on terrain scientists can see with autonomous driving in the later part on terrain that has not yet been imaged.

The drive will be followed by a Sun tau observation by Mastcam and by post-drive image documentation. The rover’s Mars Descent Imager (MARDI) will take an image of the ground at twilight.

Curiosity Mast Camera Left photo taken on Sol 2813, July 5, 2020.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Suprahorizon movie

On the second sol, Wiens reports, ChemCam is slated to make a passive observation of the sky to measure its dust and water-vapor content, and will make an observation of a bedrock target selected autonomously by the rover.

Radiation Assessment Detector (RAD), the Dynamic Albedo of Neutrons (DAN) and the Rover Environmental Monitoring Station (REMS) will continue taking data.

Also scheduled is use of Navcam to take a suprahorizon movie, and Mastcam will take another Sun tau measurement to check atmospheric dust, Wiens concludes.

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