Watching Curiosity Long Distance
It is amazing to look up into the sky at Mars and think of what is on its surface. Well cameras can watch quite closely. Late Monday night, an image from the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera aboard NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter captured the Curiosity rover and the components that helped it survive its seven-minute ordeal from space to its present location in Mars' Gale Crater. The Curiosity rover is in the center of the image. To the right, approximately 4,900 feet away, lies the heat shield, which protected the rover from 3,800-degree-Fahrenheit temperatures encountered during its fiery descent. On the lower left, about 2,020 feet away, are the parachute and back shell. The parachute has a constructed diameter of 71 feet and an inflated diameter of 51 feet. The back shell remains connected to the chute via 80 suspension lines that are 165 feet long. To the upper-left, approximately 2,100 feet away from the rover, is a discoloration of the Mars surface consistent with what would have resulted when the rocket-powered Sky Crane impacted the surface.
As more of Curiosity's instruments are coming online, more "first images" are being downlinked from the rover's 17 cameras. The latest to come in is from the Mars Hand Lens Imager or MAHLI. The focusable color camera is located on the tool-bearing turret at the end of Curiosity's robotic arm. Researchers will use it for magnified, close-up views of rocks and soils and also for wider scenes of the ground, the landscape or even the rover.
"It is great to have our first MAHLI image under our belt," said Ken Edgett, principal investigator for MAHLI from Malin Space Science Systems in San Diego. "We tested the focus mechanism and imager and the whole system is looking good. We are looking forward to getting up close and personal with Mars."
The team plans for Curiosity checkout Tuesday include raising the rover's mast and continued testing of the high-gain antenna.
Curiosity carries 10 science instruments with a total mass 15 times as large as the science payloads on the Mars rovers Spirit and Opportunity. Some of the tools, such as a laser-firing instrument for checking rocks' elemental composition from a distance, are the first of their kind on Mars. Curiosity will use a drill and scoop, which is located at the end of its robotic arm, to gather soil and powdered samples of rock interiors, then sieve and parcel out these samples into the rover's analytical laboratory instruments.
Curiosity joins the recent adventures of two other Martian rovers and will hopefully be as long lived. Spirit was a robotic rover on Mars, active from 2004 to 2010. It landed successfully on Mars at 04:35 Ground UTC on January 4, 2004, three weeks before its twin, Opportunity, landed on the other side of the planet. The Spirit rover became stuck in late 2009, and its last communication with Earth was sent on March 22, 2010.
Opportunity is a robotic rover on the planet Mars, active since 2004. Launched from Earth on July 7, 2003, it landed on Meridiani Planum on January 25, 2004 at 05:05 Ground UTC. Opportunity is still active as of 2012, having already exceeded its planned duration of activity thirty times over.
For further information see Curiosity.
Landscape image via NASA.