Editor's note: This blog is reposted with permission from the United States Geological Survey Astrogeology Science Center website. Images have been added by me. My favorite place to browse these images is midnightplanets.com. My favorite place to follow the rover's driving progress is curiositylog.com. Read this blog for an introduction to Herkenhoff's blog posts. --ESL
Sol 373: AutoNav (23 August 2013)
The autonomous navigation checkout, part of the Sol 372 drive, went perfectly! So "AutoNav" can be used for up to 90 minutes next time. If the software continues to work well, it will be used to drive into areas that cannot be seen from the rover (over hills, for example). The weekend plan includes lots of activities, including MAHLI and APXS observations of targets right in front of the rover on Sol 373, another long drive on Sol 374, and untargeted remote sensing on Sol 375. ChemCam RMI images of the sky, to check the "flat field" calibration of the camera, are also included.
Sol 374: Going Over the Hill (26 August 2013)
The Sol 374 drive, including the AutoNav portion, went very well, so an even longer drive is planned for Sol 376. For the first time AutoNav will be used to drive 10 meters over the hill, or beyond the area imaged in stereo by the Navcams after the Sol 374 drive. If the AutoNav software continues to perform well, allowing the rover to drive into areas that cannot be evaluated in advance, longer AutoNav drives will be allowed.
Sol 379-380: Hectic Day (30 August 2013)
Autonomous navigation continues to work well, and Curiosity completed another long drive on Sol 378. However, the left rear wheel ended up on a ~6 cm rock, which is larger than allowed for safe deployment of the arm. The concern that the wheel might slip off the rock while the arm is moving around, perhaps damaging the arm, caused a change in plans. The original plan was to use the arm to drop more of the Cumberland drill sample into SAM for another evolved gas analysis (2 sols worth of activities). Instead, we decided to drive about 15 meters to an area with fewer large rocks and try again. So it was a hectic day for me as SOWG Chair, but we recovered nicely from the situation. If the drive goes well, we will have a better view of the path ahead. We are planning 2 sols today, then 3 sols tomorrow to get us through the Labor Day holiday weekend.
Sol 380: Labor Day (31 August 2013)
The Sol 379 drive went well, and the rover is in a safe configuration for arm deployment. So we are planning 3 sols today (to get the rover through the Labor Day holiday), including drop-off of sample to SAM and overnight analysis, followed by a drive on the last sol. We packed some more observations into the plan, including ChemCam, DAN, and Mastcam, along with the usual post-drive imaging to set us up for the next drive. So it has been a busy day, but not as hectic as yesterday.
Sol 382: Onward to the Mountain (4 September 2013)
Autonomous navigation continues to work well, allowing longer drives into areas not visible from the previous rover location. Today the view ahead is good enough that we are planning to drive over 100 meters, with the last ~45 meters using AutoNav. But driving this far leaves very little time for targeted science observations, only a few minutes today. We knew that we would have to consider this trade off between observations and drive distance once AutoNav was verified on the B computer, but the decision is still painful. Some scientists want to spend more time studying interesting features during the long traverse to Aeolis Mons ("Mt. Sharp"), but Gale crater was selected as the MSL landing site so that the geologic history recorded in the layers of Aeolis Mons could be investigated. The overall science goal is to get to the base of the mountain with minimal delays.