Curiosity Right B Navigation Camera photo acquired on Sol 3762, March 7, 2023.
Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover at Gale Crater is now performing Sol 3763 duties.

A recent report from Natalie Moore, a mission operations specialist at Malin Space Science Systems in San Diego, California, notes the work of the Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) Instrument Suite team. They were deciding whether to proceed with further analysis of the newly acquired Tapo Caparo drill sample.

Curiosity Mast Camera Right photo taken on Sol 3761, March 6, 2023.
Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

“Just in case they decided against it, last Friday’s team put together two options for our plan today,” Moore adds, the second option requiring rover planner, the Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI), and Alpha Particle X-Ray Spectrometer (APXS) activities to help wrap up this drill campaign.

That planning involves the timing of orbital spacecraft passes above Gale crater, which can sometimes mean a pretty long day for the tactical planning team.

However, the SAM team decided quickly that they were “go” for further sample analysis, which meant no robotic arm activities could be planned (since the rover is still carrying sample from drilling), Moore explains.

Curiosity Mast Camera Left image acquired on Sol 3759, March 4, 2023.
Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Nap time

“We are now at the stage of our drill sol path where we have to be careful about how much battery power we’re using,” Moore notes, so a recent plan includes a lot of nap time for the Mars robot.

“We have just a single, roughly one hour remote science block with two Mastcam stereo multispectral targets, a Mastcam stereo mosaic to extend coverage near the drill hole,” and a Chemistry and Camera (ChemCam) Laser Induced Breakdown Spectroscopy (LIBS) target with corresponding Mastcam documentation image of the laser shots.

Curiosity Right B Navigation Camera photo acquired on Sol 3760, March 5, 2023.
Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

“It’s rare that there are no Navcam activities, but they too were released from planning after priorities were discussed for the limited remote science time we can afford today,” Moore adds.

Hungry for power

After remote science concludes, Curiosity was slated to be mostly asleep until the plan’s main — and hungriest for power — activity from SAM kicks off.

Curiosity Rear Hazard Avoidance Camera Right B image taken on Sol 3759, March 4, 2023.
Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

“SAM’s gas chromatograph ‘column clean’ activity will increase the intended column’s internal temperature until contaminants are removed to prepare for further sample drop off and full GCMS [Gas Chromatography-Mass Spectrometry] later this week,” Moore reports. “I like to think of this as ‘washing our hands before eating,’ but for about 4.5 hours. After SAM finishes cleaning their column, our rover will sleep some more until the next plan starts at 09:49 after sunrise.”

Curiosity Left B Navigation Camera image taken on Sol 3761 on March 6, 2023.
Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Staring at images

What does a “Mission Operations Specialist” like Moore do on slower days of Curiosity work?

Curiosity Mast Camera Left and Right imagery acquired on Sol 3758, March 3, 2023.
Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS



“Besides writing these few [report] words, I’m spending the rest of my day staring at images we’ve taken here” from Mastcam, MAHLI and the Mars Descent Imager (MARDI) “in that order, usually,” Moore notes, “organizing my shift notes for next time, and chipping away at a python-based interface that will hopefully help the Mastcam team visualize our data more easily.”

Here’s a view of Curiosity’s collected 36 powderized rock samples with the drill on the end of its robotic arm as of October of last year. This grid shows all 36 holes captured by the Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI).
Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

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