Emily LakdawallaApr 10, 2015

Curiosity update, sols 896-949: Telegraph Peak, Garden City, and concern about the drill

It's been unforgivably long since I last wrote a Curiosity update. Since I last wrote about Curiosity drilling at Pink Cliffs, the rover has visited and studied two major sites, drilling at one of them. The first was Telegraph Peak, within Pahrump Hills but close to the top of the section that Curiosity had surveyed before. Curiosity drilled there on sol 908.  After wrapping up work there, Curiosity finally left Pahrump Hills on sol 923, headed into a valley called Artist's Drive. Almost immediately, the rover encountered some truly stunning mineralized veins at a site named Garden City. Curiosity gathered a ton of data with MAHLI and APXS at Garden City, but did not drill before driving onward on sol 949, because they could find no suitably stable, flat spot to safely place the drill .

Curiosity has now drilled at 6 sites: John Klein, on sol 182; Cumberland, on sol 279; Windjana, on sol 621; Confidence Hills, on sol 759, Mojave, on sol 882; and Telegraph Peak, on sol 908. Unfortunately, Curiosity experienced a short circuit within the drill at Telegraph Peak that is of serious concern to the mission. Use of the drill is restricted while the mission explores how to proceed safely. I spoke with project manager Jim Erickson today to understand the problem. I'll update you on that first, then write about Telegraph Peak and Garden City.

Curiosity's arm in the air, sol 915
Curiosity's arm in the air, sol 915 This Navcam image shows the position in which the rover held its arm for several days after a transient short circuit triggered onboard fault-protection programming to halt arm activities on sol 911 (February 27, 2015). The rover team chose to hold the arm in the same position for several days of tests to diagnose the underlying cause of the Sol 911 event. Observations with instruments on the rover's mast continued during this period. The Navcam took this image on March 4, 2015, during Sol 915.Image: NASA / JPL

Drill Anomaly

The anomaly first appeared after the full drill at Telegraph Peak, on sol 911 (February 27). The rover experienced a fault while attempting to transfer material drilled from Telegraph Peak to the CheMin instrument. As the rover was using the drill percussion mechanism to vibrate the powder from inside the drill into the sample sieving part of the turret, the mechanism experienced a short circuit. The percussion mechanism is so critical to drilling and sampling activity that they stopped all other arm work to examine the problem, leaving the arm in the air for a few days.

What they observed, Erickson told me, was that current being delivered to the percussion part of the mechanism was not the same as the current overall. The missing current was passing to the rover chassis through a "battle short" that had been added to the drill during its development to deal with an issue that had been discovered during testing: a short originating in a coil of wire in the percussion mechanism that generates the high-frequency hammering of the percussion drill. "The coil that is driving the piston can rub against the side of the piston chamber that it's in if you don't have anything else working right," Erickson said. In fact, the issue on Mars looks extremely similar to this voice coil short, discovered years before launch in the engineering model of the drill that was used for testing on Earth. "They fixed it, they thought, but they were not sure of the fix, and it looks like it's biting us again," Erickson said. Here is a little more detail about the short in the percussion voice coil from a Space Science Reviews paper describing the sample handling system (Anderson et al. 2012, unfortunately not open-access).

During the testing of the Engineering Model it was observed that the percussion mechanism developed a short to chassis. If this were to happen on the flight unit during operations, it would preclude the further use of percussion. Mechanism life testing to date has shown that there is adequate life margin to service the primary mission at Gale. Additional mechanism testing is underway to explore operational modifications to prolong the percussion mechanism life to support an extended mission. Lastly, some preliminary tests in QMDT demonstrated that the Drill could collect a sufficient amount of sample for processing and instrument delivery using rotary-only drilling (without percussion) in soft materials (e.g. clays and sulfates) although at a much slower rate. The additional bit wear due to rotary-only sampling has yet to be characterized.

If you'd like to do further reading about the drill, here is a presentation about it by cozignant engineer Avi Okon.

On Mars, the short is extremely intermittent. It has happened only twice: once on sol 911, and once during testing the following week. Erickson was very careful to point out that while the anomaly on Mars closely matches what had been seen in testing of the voice coil short on Earth, they haven't yet exhausted other possibilities, and it's important to keep an open mind before they develop plans for a fix. It's odd that the problem has developed on Mars after only six drill holes into very soft rocks; it developed in the engineering model drill after much heavier use.

"It's intermittent enough that we might not see it for a while when we're doing real drilling. But it's there now, and it will happen, and we just have to figure out how we're going to deal with it," Erickson said. Work on Earth is proceeding to make sure they understand what is happening on Mars. "If we know where it is, and we know the circuits, we can calculate a couple of things: is there any danger to any other part of the vehicle? Is there any danger to the rest of the drill assembly? And is there any danger to a fuse that's on the vehicle?"

They are also accelerating the plan to develop and test operating the drill with only rotary motion, not percussion. They had planned on developing this capability anyway, Erickson said, they just thought they had a few more years to do it. If they determine that the short in the drill is the same as the one found during testing, they can tweak the fault protection parameters to allow the rover to ignore a tiny, extremely brief short and continue drilling. "You delay for some amount of time to make sure that it's not a transient, which a lot of them are going to be, and you ride through it and you continue drilling," Erickson said. They could make that determination and implement that fix as early as next week, by changing one parameter; if they do, they'll likely do a small test drill afterward just to make sure the drill continues to operate as expected. But first, they have to ensure that there is no risk of blowing a fuse on the rover if they allow the shorts to happen during drilling.

It's a tiny, intermittent short, but any threat to the rover's drilling capability is a grave concern to the mission, since the SAM and CheMin experiments on Mars rocks depend upon the drill for samples. Consequently, they are taking this problem very seriously, as Erickson explained. "The drill issue is attacking one of our prime reasons for being. Usually on the missions I've been on there's enough mix of different science capabilities and instruments that if you lose one, you're degraded slowly, as each instrument dies. [If the drill fails completely] it's going to really hamper two of our major instruments in one fell swoop. The risk of losing that capability is more serious than the risk of losing one instrument on Galileo or MER. We're going to lose two of them at the same time if this happens. Yes, you can still do the scooping [of loose soil], but we're there for the rocks."

I asked him: if the problem is what they think it is, is it likely to get progressively worse? Erickson answered: "I would say yes, but the question is really: how quickly? Right now we've drilled six science holes and some test holes. If we could get twice that out, that might be enough for a 10-year mission. The way things are going, we've got about four real areas that we want to sample. We've done the first of them, a spot on a basal layer. We've got three other areas; if we do three holes on each of them, that's only nine holes. We've already done six. If we can even get 12 out of it, that might be good enough." It's not as much as he'd like to see the mission do, obviously, but it could be sufficient.

Six Curiosity drill holes on Mars
Six Curiosity drill holes on Mars As of April 2015, Curiosity has drilled and sampled at six locations on Mars. They are (left to right and top to bottom): John Klein, drilled on sol 182; Cumberland, on sol 279; Windjana, on sol 621; Confidence Hills, on sol 759, Mojave, on sol 882; and Telegraph Peak, on sol 908. All of these images were taken with the MAHLI camera on the end of the arm from a distance of about 5 centimeters. The drill holes are 1.6 centimeters wide.Image: NASA / JPL / MSSS

While I had Erickson on the phone, I asked about the rover's other serious hardware issue, the condition of the wheels. Erickson told me that not much has changed since I last spoke with him. "There's still a background task to try and make the wheel motion smarter. To change the software and how we drive our wheels such that if they come up against a rock, they detect it, and let the wheel that's on the rock be driven gently over the rock while the driving forces are mainly the other wheels." He said they had made "good progress" on this software with successful tests in recent weeks, but that the drill anomaly has pulled away many of the people who had been working on the wheel issues.

This is a very serious concern, but while the investigation has been going on, Curiosity has continued to do science on Mars, examining some of the most interesting rocks yet seen on the mission.

Drill hole at Telegraph Peak, Curiosity sol 909
Drill hole at Telegraph Peak, Curiosity sol 909 Curiosity surveyed the site named Telegraph Peak on sol 909, the day following her drilling there. The rocks have very fine laminations. The drill hole is 1.6 centimeters wide.Image: NASA / JPL / MSSS

Telegraph Peak, sols 903-923

The Telegraph Peak site contained amazingly finely laminated rock that has eroded into fantastic shapes. You can see the laminations as low, parallel ridges in the rocks around the drill site in this photo. Where Curiosity drilled, the rock has been eroded to a level surface, but in other areas nearby, wind has eroded the fine laminations into thin plates that must be incredibly fragile.

You may notice that many of the Mastcam images from the Telegraph Peak campaign look weird, like these from sol 918; they are grayscale rather than color, and have a checkerboardy appearance to them. This isn't a bug; it's actually a symptom of what will eventually be a really fine image data set. The checkerboardy grayscale images happen whenever Curiosity returns image data losslessly, without performing color interpolation first. Eventually, these images will be among the sharpest in the data set, which is appropriate for photos of such finely laminated rock, but the raw images don't look very good in the meantime.

Like the drill campaign at Mojave, the Telegraph Peak one was completed relatively quickly, despite the fact that most of the campaign took place during restricted sols, when the timing of images arriving from Mars means that the team can only plan rover motions every other day. Curiosity arrived at the site on sol 903. On sol 905 she completed all the preliminary work: closeup imaging of the target with MAHLI, brushing, more imaging, APXS elemental activity of the target, and the "preload test" to make sure the chosen site was stable for drilling. Following a weekend remote sensing, the rover drilled on sol 908, and did followup imaging on sols 909 and 910.

But something always happens to gum up the works when Curiosity is working efficiently, and the Telegraph Peak campaign was no exception. The short in the drill halted delivery of the sample to CheMin on sol 911. The short was transient and infrequent, making troubleshooting time-consuming, but engineers approved completion of the sample transfer process on sol 922, and the rover drove away from Telegraph Peak on sol 923. Initial analysis of the Telegraph Peak sample by CheMin suggests the presence of cristobalite and quartz, two different forms of silica. These minerals could have formed in a variety of ways, but their presence broadly indicates that the sediment has undergone a lengthy geologic history; it takes a lot of processing to get silica in a world made mostly of basalt.

While the arm troubleshooting was going on, the science team was able to do lots of remote sensing work. One activity in particular was something that the team had been wanting to do since landing, but never had enough time and the right conditions to devote to it. They performed a lengthy test of the Mastcam instruments, seeing how its focus depends upon its temperature, imaging the same area repeatedly through different filters at different times of day. The test spanned a total of three sols, 914 to 916. One by-product of the repeated imaging over the course of the Martian day is this little animation I put together of the Mastcam calibration target acting as a sundial.

Curiosity's Marsdial tracking time, sols 914-917
Curiosity's Marsdial tracking time, sols 914-917 From sols 914 to 917, Curiosity was unable to move while engineers worked on a problem within the rover's drill. But she could use her mast-mounted instruments, and took advantage of the time to perform some calibration of the Mastcams. The activity involved doing Mastcam imaging at many different times of day. Nine different photos of the Mastcam calibration target show the march of time in the Marsdial gnomon's shadow.Image: NASA / JPL / MSSS / Emily Lakdawalla

Garden City, sols 926-949

The rover drove only a few meters before encountering the spectacular vein-riddled rock at Garden City.

Artist's Drive and Garden City, Curiosity sol 923
Artist's Drive and Garden City, Curiosity sol 923 Curiosity drove away from Telegraph Peak in Pahrump Hills on sol 923 and then took the 6 Mastcam images for this mosaic to look ahead at her future path. In the middle distance on the left is a cluster of erosion-resistant ridges named Garden City, which Curiosity examined in detail between sols 926 and 949.Image: NASA / JPL / MSSS / Paul Hammond

The MAHLI camera got a workout at Garden City, acquiring a large number of images of the erosion-resistant veins. The arm work was made more challenging by the fact that CHIMRA (the sample handling mechanism on the arm) still had powdered drilled sample from Telegraph Peak in it, which limits the directions and angles at which the turret can be permitted to turn. The rover departed Garden City on sol 939, performing five-position wheel imaging and driving to a float rock called Kanosh. Kanosh represents a different rock unit from Pahrump Hills, the one that caps the Pahrump sedimentary deposits. Curiosity examined Kanosh for sols 940 through 944, then the team decided to return to Garden City to do more arm science. They acquired this spectacular panorama with MAHLI on sol 946:

Veins at Garden City, Curiosity sol 946
Veins at Garden City, Curiosity sol 946 Curiosity used the camera on the end of her robotic arm to take a large set of images of some of the complex veins at the site named Garden City on sol 946 (April 5, 2015). The veins combine light and dark material. The veins at this site jut to heights of up to about 6 centimeters above the surrounding rock, and their widths range up to about 4 centimeters. Mineral veins such as these form where fluids move through fractured rocks, depositing minerals in the fractures and affecting chemistry of the surrounding rock. In this case, the veins have been more resistant to erosion than the surrounding host rock.Image: NASA / JPL / MSSS / Paul Hammond

Geologists on the team are beginning to piece together the story told by the vein-riddled rocks. Such veins must have formed after the original sediments had been buried and turned into fairly hard rock. Later, the rock fractured and fluids moved through, depositing minerals in the cracks. In an update posted to the Curiosity website on April 1, team member Linda Kah suggests that the two different colors of veins present at Garden City represent two different fluids that must have moved through rock fractures at different times. The darker mineral formed first, filling the cracks, and later the cracks widened and a different fluid deposited the brighter material.

The rover finished at Garden City on sol 949 without drilling. They could not have drilled yet even if they wanted to, but by chance the outcrop at Garden City was too rugged for safe drill placement, and the decision was taken out of their hands. Since then, Curiosity has been driving onward down Artist's Drive. The mission plans to drive a few hundred meters before checking out another outcrop of Pahrump-like material.

Project scientist Ashwin Vasavada told me that it feels good to be on the road again, seeing new and different horizons. Longer drives could mean picking up a little more damage to the wheels, as it's hard to avoid potentially wheel-damaging rocks too far away to be seen in Navcam and Mastcam images; but their plan to prevent rapid damage has been working as expected so far, and it's time to get to some new and different rocks. Here is a lovely panorama from Damia Bouic, showing the road behind, and the road ahead.

Artist's Drive, sol 950 (colorized Navcam panorama)
Artist's Drive, sol 950 (colorized Navcam panorama) With just shy of 10 kilometers on the odometer, Curiosity paused in a valley named Artist's Drive to gather in this view on sol 950 (April 8, 2015). This is a Navcam panorama that has been artistically colorized. Garden City and Pahrump Hills are on the left, in the distance; Mount Sharp peaks from behind the walls of Artist's Drive at center; and the way ahead lies to the right.Image: NASA / JPL / MSSS / Damia Bouic

For completeness, here are all the updates for this period from the USGS Astrogeology news site.

Sols 896-898 update by Lauren Edgar: In search of the next drill target (11 February 2015)

After completing our drilling activities at the Pink Cliffs outcrop, Curiosity is ready to move on to the next location. But where to drill? We’re searching for something that is chemically very different from the last drill target (Mojave2). After much discussion, we decided to try for a recessive rock near the Whale Rock outcrop. Several possibilities were presented, and the rover planners spent the morning evaluating the terrain and accessibility of the targets. The goal is to get close to the outcrop seen in the middle of this Navcam image from Sol 837.

With that location in mind, the plan today includes a pre-drive targeted science block, a drive towards that outcrop, and some post-drive remote sensing. I was the Geology Theme Lead today, and we filled the first science block with ChemCam and Mastcam observations of the post-sieve dump pile. Then we’ll drive up the section one more time, towards the next drill target. After the drive Curiosity will acquire Mastcam and Navcam images to help with future target selection. On Sol 897 we’ll perform several atmospheric monitoring activities with Mastcam, ChemCam and Navcam to measure the atmospheric opacity and composition, and search for clouds. The science block on Sol 898 includes a Mastcam 360 degree mosaic to document the Pahrump Hills region, and a ChemCam calibration activity.

Sols 899-902 update by Ryan Anderson: Long weekend, long plan! (13 February 2015)

Today we planned 4 sols to take the rover through President’s day weekend. We humans get a long weekend, but the rover has a lot of work to do! We were supposed to drive about 45 meters in the previous plan, but the data received this morning showed that the rover stopped after only 17 meters. I was on duty as the ChemCam science Payload Uplink Lead (sPUL) today, and in the science theme group meeting we were worried that the short drive would cause a major change in the plan, but it turned out not to be a problem. The rover drivers understand why the rover stopped early and had no concerns about simply continuing the drive in today’s plan. Even better, there was enough room in the plan to do the drive without changing how much time we had to do science!

The location where the rover stopped was mostly flat bedrock and large sand ripples: not where we planned to stop, but still plenty of science to do. On sol 899, ChemCam will analyze the target “Osiris” and on Sol 900 ChemCam will analyze “Garley.” Both of these targets are patches of bedrock, so the chemistry data, when combined with the many other observations of bedrock over the last few weeks and months, will help understand how the rocks change throughout the stratigraphic section.

Mastcam has an 8x3 mosaic of Osiris on Sol 899, which seems to have some fine layering that is barely visible in Navcam. On sol 900 Mastcam also will take a documentation image of Garley, a 2x2 mosaic of a layered rock near the rover called “Sneakover” (because it was snuck into the plan at the last minute), and a 2x2 mosaic of “Hermosa,” where the rover tracks cross a sand ripple.

On sol 901, ChemCam will make some passive (no laser) measurements of the sky, and then Curiosity will resume the drive that was cut short. After the drive, we have standard imaging to get our bearings, plus a Mastcam 360 degree mosaic and a Navcam cloud observation. The DAN instrument will do an active measurement after the drive to characterize the amount of light elements (such as the hydrogen in water) under the rover in the new location. And finally, ChemCam will do some routine measurements of the calibration targets.

On sol 902, the rover gets a bit of a rest, with just routine environmental measurements by RAD and REMS.

Sols 903-904 update by Lauren Edgar: A Bumping Day on Mars (18 February 2015)

Curiosity is in search of the next drill target, and the main activity in today’s plan is to “bump” closer to a rock outcrop for contact science. Curiosity will perform a short drive, which will set us up to use the instruments on the rover’s arm to assess the potential for drilling here. The plan also includes several ChemCam and Mastcam observations of the targets “Emery” and “Elbert” to characterize the outcrop and a nearby vein. We will also acquire a Mastcam mosaic of the outcrop named “Newspaper Rock” to understand the local stratigraphy. After the drive Curiosity will acquire Navcam images for future targeting, and a Mastcam image for a systematic clast survey. The second sol of this plan is untargeted, so Curiosity will monitor the atmosphere with Navcam and Mastcam, and perform some ChemCam calibration activities. I’m on MER duty today, and Opportunity is also “bumping” to a location overlooking Marathon Valley. Another busy day on Mars!

Sols 905-907 update by Lauren Edgar: Testing "Telegraph Peak" (20 February 2015)

The latest "bump" placed the rover in a good position for detailed study of the outcrop of interest, as we all hoped. The plan that will take the rover through the weekend is, in the words of the SOWG Chair Doug Ming, "jam-packed" with science observations. The MSL tactical team is focused on examination of an outcrop target called "Telegraph Peak" to determine whether it is suitable for drilling. On Sol 905, MAHLI will take pictures of Telegraph Peak before it is cleaned off by the brush. Mastcam and ChemCam will then observe the brushed target before the arm is used to acquire a full suite of MAHLI images, two APXS measurements, and test the strength of the target by pushing the drill assembly against it. Finally, the APXS will be placed on Telegraph Peak again for overnight integrations. In parallel, starting around midnight, SAM will perform a static test of its quadrupole mass spectrometer.

The next morning, the arm will be moved out of the way to allow ChemCam and Mastcam observations of nearby targets "Brazer" and "Crazy Hollow." Later in the afternoon, when lighting will be better for some distant targets, Mastcam will acquire a couple of mosaics. Just after sunset, now that the rover is in a new location, MARDI will acquire an image of the ground near the left front wheel. Only a few activities are planned for Sol 907, including another Mastcam mosaic and a Navcam search for dust devils, to allow the rover's batteries to recharge in preparation for possible drilling on Sol 908.

Sols 908-913 update by Ryan Anderson: Drilling Telegraph Peak and Leaving Pahrump (27 February 2015)

It’s been a busy week on Mars, as usual! The big activity in the Sol 908 plan was drilling at the target “Telegraph Peak”. After the drilling, on sol 909 ChemCam made measurements of the targets “Tapeats” and “Humbug”, and Mastcam took supporting images of those targets. Mastcam also took images of the fresh drill hole using all of its scientific filters.

On sol 910, ChemCam took some passive spectra of the powder generated by the drilling at Telegraph Peak, along with an RMI image of the drill hole. As the whole internet learned this week, the way your eye and brain perceive color can be misleading, so we like to use the Mastcam filters and ChemCam passive spectra to really get an accurate idea of the color of our drill tailings. ChemCam also had an observation of a gray raised ridge called “Bluff” and some fine soil dubbed “Tintic”. Mastcam helped out by taking color images of those ChemCam targets and Navcam took a routine atmospheric monitoring “movie” over Mt. Sharp. At night on Sol 910, MAHLI used its built-in LEDs to take pictures of the drill hole.

On sol 911, the rover dropped off some of the powder collected from Telegraph Peak to CheMin for analysis, and APXS had an overnight analysis of the drill tailings.

On sol 912, Mastcam will take a mosaic of some dunes in an area called “Artist's Drive” and ChemCam will zap the Telegraph Peak drill hole. It turns out that we missed the gray resistant ridge target “Bluff” from sol 910, so we will try to hit it again on sol 912.

After that, we will drive down Artist's Drive, away from the “Pahrump” area. After the drive, we will collect our standard post-drive images so we can select targets next week. On sol 913 ChemCam, Mastcam, and Navcam will make some atmospheric measurements, since we won’t have data down yet to allow for targeted observations.

Sol 917 update by Ken Herkenhoff: Mastcam Thermal Characterization (5 March 2015)

I'm MAHLI/MARDI uplink lead today, but there hasn't been much for me to do because of the restriction on arm activities following last week's fault. The arm is being used exclusively for diagnostic testing to determine the cause of the fault; test results are being analyzed by the MSL engineering team. As this work continues, the remote sensing instruments are being used to examine nearby rocks and soils, including ChemCam observations of the drill hole. More ChemCam observations are planned for Sol 917, plus several Mastcam observations intended to measure the effect of varying temperatures on camera focus.

Sols 918-920 update by Ken Herkenhoff: Diagnostic testing (6 March 2015)

More diagnostic data are needed to fully understand the cause of the Sol 911 fault, so no arm activities are planned for this weekend. The Mastcam thermal characterization will be completed early on Sol 918, while it's still cold. Another test to diagnose the power issue is planned that afternoon, followed by ChemCam and Mastcam observations of targets dubbed "Ophir" and "Keetley," and a Navcam "movie" to search for clouds over Aeolis Mons ("Mt. Sharp"). On Sol 919, a Mastcam stereo mosaic of "Book Cliffs" will be followed by more ChemCam observations, including another attempt to measure the elemental chemistry of a bright feature in the wall of the "Telegraph Peak" drill hole. The feature is only a few millimeters long, so is difficult to hit with the laser--previous attempts just barely missed it. Later in the afternoon, Mastcam will acquire a stereo mosaic of a target called "Brazer." The only science activities planned for Sol 920 are the usual REMS and RAD observations.

Sol 921 update by Ryan Anderson: Wrapping Up Diagnostics (9 March 2015)

The engineers on the team have been working hard to understand the current fluctuation that caused the arm to halt on Sol 911, and they are expecting to wrap up their diagnostics this week! In the meantime, we on the science team have been keeping ourselves and the rover busy by using the remote sensing instruments.

In the morning of the sol 921 plan, Mastcam has a 14x4 mosaic of the target “Newspaper Rock” and ChemCam will be doing a calibration measurement and an observation of the “Telegraph Peak” drill hole. Navcam will also do some routine monitoring for dust devils.

In the afternoon, ChemCam will analyze two gray vein-like targets: “Old_Woman,” and “Marsden” and Mastcam will take supporting images of the ChemCam targets as usual. Navcam will then watch the sky and try to detect any cloud motion.

We’ve been getting some great data but everyone is eager to see the arm back in action soon so that CheMin can work on analyzing the sample from Telegraph Peak and the rover can leave Pahrump and head toward our first contact science target along “Artist’s Drive”!

Sol 922 update by Ryan Anderson: Arm in Action (10 March 2015)

Good news! We’re allowed to use the arm again! The engineers have done all the diagnostics needed, and so today’s plan was dominated by arm activities for science.

In the morning of sol 922, there is a short science block during which ChemCam and Mastcam will analyze the target “Whitmore_2” on the “Newspaper rock” outcrop to see if it is similar to the “Whale Rock” outcrop that we studied previously. After that, the rover will transfer some of the drill sample that it collected before the arm fault into CheMin. Once the sample is inside CheMin and ready to be analyzed overnight to figure out what minerals it contains, the arm will place APXS on the pile of tailings near the drill hole. This will allow APXS to do an overnight measurement of the chemical composition of the tailings pile.

Sol 923 update by Ryan Anderson: Getting out of Dodge (11 March 2015)

The plan for today, as our SOWG (Science Operations Working Group) chair put it, is to “get out of Dodge”! We will be driving to a location where we can do “full MAHLI wheel imaging” in the coming sols.

During the drive, the rover will stop long enough for Mastcam to get an image of the drill tailings to document where we placed the APXS overnight. We’ll also get a Mastcam image of a wind-blown ripple to see what the grain sizes are. After the drive, we have Mastcam observations of the candidate contact science target “Garden City” along with routine post-drive images from Navcam. There will also be several standard environmental monitoring measurements.

Tomorrow I’m on duty as the “Keeper of the Plan” for the geology and mineralogy group and it looks like there will be time for lots of remote sensing science from our new location, so it should be a busy day!

Sols 924-927 update by Ryan Anderson: Garden City Here We Come! (13 March 2015)

Yesterday was a challenging day on Mars and Earth. On Mars, the rover stopped its drive early because it detected that its wheels were slipping in the sand, so we weren’t where we expected to be and we had to adjust our observations accordingly. At the same time on Earth, some network issues at JPL made it difficult for many of us to connect to the tools that we use to do our planning. Luckily those issues didn’t start up until the planning for Sol 924 was pretty far along, so we were still able to get a good plan put together.

On sol 924, ChemCam analyzed a layered rock target called “Hennefer”, and Mastcam took a supporting image. Mastcam also took a mosaic of the outcrop we are heading toward, called “Garden City”, as well as a small mosaic of the sand ripple (called “Tropic Ripple”) near where we stopped, and a mosaic of a tiny crater that we called “Hemicyon Basin.”

After that, the rover continued on its drive toward Garden City. After the drive, ChemCam did a calibration measurement, MAHLI took an image from its stowed position, and Mastcam took a 2x1 mosaic looking back across the floor of Gale crater toward the “Peace Vallis” alluvial fan. Mastcam and Navcam also had some atmospheric observations, and Mastcam and Navcam also took some standard post-drive mosaics.

This morning things were a lot smoother. We started off planning ogling the beautiful images of the Garden City outcrop, which is cris-crossed with erosion resistant ridges. The plan for sol 925 is to do a ChemCam analysis and associated Mastcam mosaic on one of the nearby ridges called “San Timoteo”, along with a Mastcam stereo mosaic of Garden City. Later in the day, ChemCam has an observation of a dark rock to test some focusing settings on a very dark target. Then CheMin will do an overnight analysis on the sample that it is currently working on.

On the morning of sol 926, ChemCam has some passive observations of the sky, and Mastcam and Navcam also have some atmospheric measurements. Then the rover will do a short drive toward Garden City, followed by standard imaging plus some extra Navcams of the hill that is rising above us.

Finally on sol 927, Mastcam and Navcam have some more atmospheric measurements.

Next week many of us on the science team will be at the Lunar and Planetary Science Conference, but we will also be eagerly checking in on what Curiosity is doing at the tantalizing Garden City outcrop.

Sols 928-929 update by Lauren Edgar: Checking Out Garden City (16 March 2015)

Over the weekend, Curiosity bumped closer to the target “Garden City” located in “Artist’s Drive.” “Garden City” is an intriguing target because it contains a lot of really big veins, captured here in this Mastcam image from Sol 926.

Today’s plan is focused on characterizing “Garden City” and getting ready for contact science on Wednesday. The plan includes ChemCam observations on the targets “Ouray” and “Hoskinnini” to characterize the composition of the light and dark parts of the veins, as well as several Mastcam multispectral observations. There are also several Navcam and Mastcam activities to monitor atmospheric opacity and search for dust devils. Furthermore, this plan includes several important SAM activities to prepare for and analyze the previously acquired “Telegraph Peak” sample.

I’ll be the Geology Science Theme Lead on Wednesday so I dialed in to the planning meetings to prepare for what is shaping up to be a very busy day of arm activities!

Sols 930-931 update by Ken Herkenhoff: Arm Science (18 March 2015)

The MAHLI team was well prepared for contact science today, but had to scramble to react to news early this morning that the right front wheel is perched on a small rock and therefore is not in a safe position for arm contact with the surface. We had originally planned to brush a potential APXS target with the Dust Removal Tool (DRT) and take MAHLI images of the brushed spot. But the DRT activity had to be deleted, and MAHLI reconnaissance imaging of another potential APXS target added to the plan. This made for a hectic morning for me and the other MAHLI uplink leads, but we are happy with how the plan turned out. On Sol 930, ChemCam and Mastcam will observe an outcrop target named "Swasey" before the arm will be used to acquire MAHLI images of the bright and dark rocks shown in the lower left part of this image. These MAHLI images will be useful in planning future scientific observations. The APXS will then be placed close to a dark patch for overnight integration. None of the MAHLI or APXS activities includes surface contact, so they are safe even with the rock under the right front wheel. Early on the morning of Sol 931, the left Navcam will be used to search for dust devils and clouds as part of an ongoing experiment to determine how these atmospheric phenomena vary with time of day. Mastcam images of the terrain ahead are planned around noon, followed by MAHLI imaging of another APXS target late in the afternoon. Then the APXS will hover near the surface for another overnight integration. Planning is "restricted" this week, so the next tactical planning will occur on Friday.

Sols 932-934 update by Lauren Edgar: What’s Growing in Garden City (20 March 2015)

While many of us in the northern hemisphere are celebrating the first day of spring, Curiosity is busy tending to her “Garden City.” Sadly there are no flowers in sight, but the outcrop contains some beautiful veins. This MAHLI image from Sol 930 shows some of the complex relationships that we’re trying to sort out. I’ve been the Geology Science Theme Lead this week and Ken Herkenhoff has been the SOWG Chair and MAHLI PUL, so the team here at the USGS has been very involved in planning contact science at this location.

Today we’re planning 3 sols, during which Curiosity will acquire MAHLI and APXS on both the dark and light portions of these veins to better understand their texture and composition. We’ll also acquire a ChemCam transect across one of the veins, to look for variations in chemistry. And Curiosity will stay busy overnight, working on the third CheMin analysis of the “Telegraph Peak” sample. In addition to these observations, Curiosity will perform a number of environmental monitoring activities to measure atmospheric composition and opacity, and search for dust devils. Next week we’ll have to decide if we want to stay here at “Garden City” for further analyses, or continue driving down “Artist’s Drive.”

Sols 935-936 update by Lauren Edgar: More Contact Science at Garden City (23 March 2015)

Last Friday we planned some additional contact science at “Garden City.” Unfortunately, an error resulted in the loss of contact science during Sols 931-933. A change needed in commanding is understood, and the rover is healthy and has not moved, so we’ll be recovering that science this week.

Today’s two-sol plan looks pretty similar to what we had planned for the weekend. Curiosity is still investigating the dark and light portions of the veins at ”Garden City.” The plan includes MAHLI and APXS on the veins, and some ChemCam and Mastcam observations to look for variations in chemistry. Curiosity will also perform a number of environmental monitoring activities to measure atmospheric composition and opacity, and search for dust devils. Although we were disappointed that the weekend plan didn’t execute as we had hoped, the images that we’ve received so far show that this is a complicated outcrop and very deserving of additional investigations!

Sols 937-938 update by Ken Herkenhoff: Veinfest (25 March 2015)

Interest in the dark and bright veins continues to be high, so the Sol 937 plan is dominated by observations of these features. But first, ChemCam and Mastcam will observe the unsieved Telegraph Peak drill sample dump pile. Ryan is ChemCam science uplink lead today, and I helped him plan ChemCam rasters on the dump pile and the dark material just right of center in this image. APXS and MAHLI will also continue the investigation of the vein materials, including a new target named "Live Oak Canyon." On Sol 938, ChemCam will measure 3 different targets, then Mastcam will acquire a large mosaic of the ridge southeast of the rover.

Sols 939-941 update by Ken Herkenhoff: Leaving Garden City (27 March 2015)

yan and I are working ChemCam tactical operations again today, planning 3 sols to get MSL through the upcoming weekend. We therefore focused on planning Sol 939 ChemCam observations of "Live Oak Canyon," "Idyllwild," and "Blanco Mountain." Mastcam images of these and other targets are also planned before 3 sets of MAHLI images of the wheels. Two more sets of MAHLI wheel images will be taken on Sol 940 before the rover drives south toward a rock dubbed "Kanosh." Because less data than normal are expected to be received in time for planning on Monday, extra effort was put into prioritizing various post-drive datasets. CheMin will perform another mineralogical analysis on the Telegraph Peak drill sample overnight, then Navcam and Mastcam will observe the horizon early on the morning of Sol 941. We are exploring the use of Mastcam to get high-resolution measurements of dust and ice in the atmosphere. Later on Sol 941, ChemCam will observe calibration targets on the rover, and SAM will perform an engineering diagnositc activity.

Sols 942-943 update by Lauren Edgar: Cap Rock “Kanosh” (30 March 2015)

Over the weekend, Curiosity drove further into Artist’s Drive to investigate a rock named “Kanosh.” This boulder appears to represent the “capping unit,” so we’re planning to study Kanosh in more detail to understand this resistant type of rock.

Today’s two-sol plan consists of remote sensing and contact science to investigate this boulder. We’ll acquire ChemCam on the targets “Piru,” “Little Devil,” and “Tierra Blanca.” We’ll also use MAHLI at several locations on the boulder to document the grain sizes and textures that are present, and then we’ll place APXS for an overnight integration on the target “Little Devil” on the top of the boulder. There are also a number of Mastcam observations to characterize “Kanosh” and some nearby veins and ripples. Today the team is also trying to decide if we should continue driving down Artist’s Drive, or return to “Garden City” to continue exploring the interesting veins there.

Sols 944-945 update by Ken Herkenhoff: Return to Garden City (1 April 2015)

After receiving and analyzing the most recent "Garden City" data, the MSL team decided that more data are needed to better understand this interesting outcrop. Therefore, after acquiring some ChemCam and Mastcam observations near "Kanosh," the rover will drive back to Garden City on Sol 944. The goal is to position the rover for contact science activities in a part of the outcrop that was not previously within the arm's reach. CheMin will perform another analysis of the Telegraph Peak drill sample overnight, then ChemCam, REMS and Mastcam will measure atmospheric properties on Sol 945. Tactical planning is still "restricted" due to the difference between Pacific Daylight Time and the local time in Gale Crater, so the next set of rover activities will not be planned until Friday.

Sols 946-947 update by Ken Herkenhoff: MAHLI mosaic (3 April 2015)

The MAHLI operations team did a lot of good work preparing for Sol 946, so I expected that it would be an easy day for me as uplink lead. Unfortunately, a problem on the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) prevented some of the data we expected to receive in time for planning from being relayed to Earth. MRO has been very reliable in the past and we have gotten used to receiving most of the MSL data through MRO. Fortunately, the orbiter is recovering quickly and should be back to normal operations this weekend. But without some key MSL data this morning, it was more difficult than usual to plan arm activities. Despite valiant efforts by the Rover Planners and APXS team, a safe target for APXS placement could not be found. The focus of the weekend plan is the outcrop at the center of this image. But first, ChemCam and Mastcam will observe nearby targets "Elsinore" and "Bishop" early in the afternoon of Sol 946. Then a few reconnaissance MAHLI images of potential APXS targets and a 12-position MAHLI mosaic of the outcrop are planned. Before dawn on Sol 947, Mastcam will image stars in order to measure the concentration of dust and ice in the atmosphere at night. After dawn, more Mastcam (plus Navcam and ChemCam) observations of the sky are planned for comparison with the nighttime measurements. Later that morning, ChemCam and Mastcam will observe a target dubbed "White Mountain." Only two sols are being planned because Sunday is a “soliday," a sol we skip on Mars so that we’re back in sync for unrestricted planning on Monday.

Sol 948 update by Lauren Edgar: Good Morning Mars (6 April 2015)

As we started the planning day before sunrise, I was reminded of the first three months of the mission that we spent living on Mars time. Today is an early “slide sol,” meaning that the planning timeline is shifted 1.5 hours earlier in order to compensate for our downlink and uplink times. Today is also a “tight” planning sol, meaning that the planning timeline is slightly shorter today. On top of that, we have a very complex set of activities planned for today!

Despite these restrictions, we certainly didn’t hold back on any science, and we developed a plan that uses almost the entire payload. I was the Geology Science Theme Lead today, and the goal today is to wrap up contact science on the veins at Garden City. The plan includes ChemCam observations on a dark vein and a plate that looks like it broke off from a vein, followed by Mastcam documentation. Then we’ll acquire a large MAHLI mosaic to assess the morphology of one of the prominent veins, seen in this Mastcam image from Sol 946. In the evening we’ll do a short APXS integration on the target “Amboy,” and then a longer overnight integration on the target “Kern_Peak” (“Kern_Peak” is the flat plate near the middle of this Mastcam image). The plan also includes another CheMin analysis of the Telegraph Peak sample, as well as a SAM GC diagnostic activity, in addition to standard DAN, RAD and REMS observations. I guess Curiosity doesn’t have much time to sleep either…

Sol 949 update by Lauren Edgar: Leaving Garden City (7 April 2015)

After an extensive study of the veins at Garden City, it’s finally time to continue on our path down Artist’s Drive. We’ve collected a lot of really great data, including MAHLI images like this one from Sol 946, which will help us to determine the history of fluid flow through these rocks.

Today’s plan includes one last Mastcam multispectral observation on a bright block at Garden City, and a Navcam dust devil search prior to driving away. The drive will start by turning around so that DAN can make a measurement over the vein-rich area. After a drive of ~20 m, we’ll acquire images to be used to select targets in the Sol 950 plan. It’s really exciting to be driving again, and we’re looking forward to checking out the stratigraphy exposed in the valley walls along the way!

Sol 950 update by Lauren Edgar: Taking in the Scenery along Artist’s Drive (8 April 2015)

Like most tourists who visit Artist’s Drive on Earth, Curiosity is busy taking lots of photos to document the valley walls of Artist’s Drive on Mars. We are officially on the road again, and working our way through a very scenic drive.

I’m the Geology Science Theme Lead today, and today’s plan involves a pre-drive science block, a drive for hopefully ~30-40m, and some post-drive imaging for targeting. Unfortunately we have to be on a bit of a diet in terms of the total data volume that we can acquire. Back at Garden City we acquired a lot of really great data, and now we need to trim down so that we don’t acquire more data than we can downlink in a reasonable amount of time. The plan includes several large Mastcam mosaics to look at the stratigraphy exposed on the northwest and southeast valley walls, and post-drive Navcam mosaics to help select targets in the Sol 951 plan. We’ll also acquire Mastcam imaging to monitor atmospheric opacity. Tomorrow’s plan looks fairly similar to today – we’ll continue to drive and study the valley walls, taking time to appreciate the views along the way.

Sol 951 update by Ryan Anderson: 10k (9 April 2015)

We are continuing our driving tour of Artist’s Drive, and we should be reaching the 10k mark on Curiosity’s odometer in the sol 951 plan! The rover will start off the day with a targeted science block full of Mastcam observations. We are planning two Mastcam mosaics looking at the layers in the valley walls on either side of us, plus a routine “clast survey” image to document the soil and gravel at our feet, plus an observation of a portion of Mt. Sharp that is visible in the distance (which we have given the name “Tip Top Mountain”, even though we can’t see the top of the mountain from where we are), and a Mastcam image of the target “Joshua Tree.” It won’t be a purely Mastcam-filled block though: ChemCam has two long-distance Remote Micro-Imager (RMI) observations, also of “Tip Top Mountain” and “Joshua Tree.”

After the science block, the plan is to do a short drive to a location that gives us a nice long-distance view to help with drive planning. After the drive (and passing the 10k mark!), we will have our standard post-drive imaging so that tomorrow we can do targeted science again. There is also a post-drive Navcam movie to search for clouds and measure the wind direction overhead.

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