After about a two-week stand down to investigate the cause and consequences of a transient short circuit detected in the Curiosity rover’s arm-mounted drill mechanism, engineers determined it was safe to get the high-tech robot back in action and resume normal science and driving operations on the Red Planet.
And soon after the car-sized robot started rolling again across the alien Martian crater floor, she discovered a beautiful patch of mineral vein-filled rocks on her epic trek up from the foothills of a humongous mountain under investigation today, March 26, 2015, on Sol 937 of Martian surface operations. See our veiny photo mosaic above.
But the team’s first order of business was to command NASA’s Curiosity Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) rover to sieve and deliver a rock-powder sample bored from her most recent and otherwise successful drilling operation at a spot called “Telegraph Peak” at the base of Mount Sharp.
“Good news! We’re allowed to use the arm again!” said Ryan Anderson, Curiosity mission scientist at the USGS Astrogeology Science Center, in a mission update.
“The engineers have done all the diagnostics needed, and so today’s plan was dominated by arm activities for science.”
The “Telegraph Peak” sample was collected from the rock target on Feb. 24, 2015, or Sol 908. But the team subsequently temporarily suspended the one-ton rover’s arm movements pending a complete analysis of the short circuit.
In fact, the robotic arm was left in place and held high in a raised position after movements were halted as a precautionary measure after the transient short circuit was detected so that engineers could run tests to diagnose the issue. See our mosaic of the raised and suspended arm herein.
A portion of the sample powder was successfully delivered to the Chemistry and Mineralogy (CheMin) miniaturized analytical chemistry instrument inside the rover’s belly on Sol 922 (March 11, 2015).
“That precious Telegraph Peak sample had been sitting in the arm, so tantalizingly close, for two weeks,” said Curiosity Project Scientist Ashwin Vasavada of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., in a statement.
“We are really excited to get it delivered for analysis.”
At a later date, another portion of the Telegraph Peak sample material held in the sample handling system will be delivered to the robot’s second miniaturized chemistry lab, the Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) suite of instruments that will search for organic molecules.
Curiosity has been working around the “Pahrump Hills” outcrop area since she arrived there some six months ago in September 2014 and conducted a “walkabout” to scout the best locations for contact science and drilling.
“Telegraph Peak” was the third and last planned rock sample drilled at the “Pahrump Hills” outcrop following the “Confidence Hills” and “Mojave 2” drill campaigns in September 2014 and January 2015.
The “Pahrump Hills” outcrop belongs to the bedrock exposure of the Murray formation that forms the basal geological layer at the base of Mount Sharp, at the center of Mars’ Gale Crater.
Mount Sharp is comprised of sedimentary rock layers that record the history of ancient Martian environments and is the primary destination of the mission.
The mountain towers 3.4 miles (5.5 kilometers) into the Martian sky and dominates the center of the Gale Crater landing site, where Curiosity safely touched down some 31 months ago in August 2012.
After the “Telegraph Peak” sample was successfully delivered to CheMin, the rover’s handlers ordered Curiosity to hit the road and “get out of Dodge!” said Anderson.
The immediate plan was to head southwest from Pahrump Hills, initially through another valley called “Artist’s Drive,” then on a route leading to the long-sought, higher geological layers of Mount Sharp.
The rover has made good progress driving to an outcrop called “Garden City” and soon found a scientifically enticing and beautiful patch of “dark and bright veins” in the images returned by the rover’s mast-mounted cameras.
“We started off planning ogling the beautiful images of the Garden City outcrop, which is cris-crossed with erosion resistant ridges,” says Anderson.
“’Garden City’ is an intriguing target because it contains a lot of really big veins,” said fellow MSL and USGS mission scientist Lauren Edgar in a mission update, describing the spot where Curiosity is still currently working today, March 26, or Sol 937.
The six-wheeled robot is conducting a detailed research investigation and contact science on the veins with both mast- and arm-mounted science instruments.
“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,” Edgar explains.
“MAHLI images shows some of the complex relationships that we’re trying to sort out.”
“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.”
The “Garden City” veiny outcrop remains under active investigation at this time.
“Interest in the dark and bright veins continues to be high, so the Sol 937 plan is dominated by observations of these features,” reported fellow MSL and USGS mission scientist Ken Herkenhoff, today, March 26, Sol 937.
As of today, Curiosity’s odometer totals over 6.4 miles (10.3 kilometers) since landing inside Gale Crater on Mars in August 2012. She has taken some 224,815 images during over 937 Sols of exploration.
Meanwhile, older sister rover Opportunity ascended to the summit of Cape Tribulation along Endeavour crater on the opposite side of Mars and has arrived at Marathon Valley, which is loaded with Martian minerals treasures formed in ancient flowing neutral water, more conducive to the formation of microbial life forms. On Jan. 24, she also celebrated her astonishing 11th anniversary roving the Red Planet!
Read the new article about assembly operations for NASA’s next Mars mission named InSight here.
InSight is set to launch March 4, 2016.
Stay tuned here for continuing updates from Mars and throughout our Solar System!
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