Curiosity is Back! Snapping Fresh Martian Vistas

by Ken Kremer on March 24, 2013

Curiosity's raised robotic arm and drill are staring at you in this new panoramic vista of Yellowknife Bay basin snapped on March 23, Sol 223 by the rover's navigation camera system. The raw images were stitched by Marco Di Lorenzo and Ken Kremer and colorized. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Marco Di Lorenzo/KenKremer (kenkremer.com)

Curiosity’s raised robotic arm and drill are staring at you in this new panoramic vista of Yellowknife Bay basin snapped on March 23, Sol 223, by the rover’s navigation camera system. The raw images were stitched by Marco Di Lorenzo and Ken Kremer and colorized. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Marco Di Lorenzo/KenKremer (kenkremer.com)

Curiosity is back! After a multi-week hiatus forced by a computer memory glitch, NASA’s mega rover is back to full operation.

And the proof is crystal clear in the beautiful new panoramic view (above) snapped by Curiosity this weekend from Yellowknife Bay, showing the robot’s arm and drill elevated and aiming straight at you – raring to go and ready to feast on something deliciously Martian.

“That drill is hungry, looking for something tasty to eat, and ‘you’ (loaded with water and organics) are it,” I thought with a chuckle as Curiosity seeks additional habitats and ingredients friendly to life.

So my imaging partner Marco Di Lorenzo and I celebrated the great news by quickly creating the new panoramic mosaic assembled from images taken on Saturday, March 23, or Sol 223, by the robot’s navigation cameras. Our new Curiosity mosaic was first featured on Saturday at NBC News Cosmic Log by Alan Boyle – while I was hunting for Comet Pan-STARRS.

So the fact that Curiosity is again snapping images and transmitting fresh alien vistas and new science data is a relief to eagerly waiting scientists and engineers here on Earth.

Drilling goes to the heart of the mission. It was absolutely essential to the key finding of Curiosity’s Martian foray thus far – that Mars possesses an environment where alien microbes could once have thrived in the distant past when the Red Planet was warmer and wetter.

Curiosity accomplished Historic 1st drilling into Martian rock at John Klein outcrop on Feb 8, 2013 (Sol 182), shown in this context mosaic view of the Yellowknife Bay basin taken on Jan. 26 (Sol 169) where the robot is currently working. The robotic arm is pressing down on the surface at John Klein outcrop of veined hydrated minerals – dramatically back dropped with her ultimate destination; Mount Sharp. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Ken Kremer/Marco Di Lorenzo

Curiosity accomplished Historic 1st drilling into Martian rock at John Klein outcrop on Feb 8, 2013 (Sol 182), shown in this context mosaic view of the Yellowknife Bay basin taken on Jan. 26 (Sol 169) where the robot is currently working. The robotic arm is pressing down on the surface at John Klein outcrop of veined hydrated minerals – dramatically back dropped with her ultimate destination; Mount Sharp. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Ken Kremer/Marco Di Lorenzo

Curiosity has found widespread evidence for repeated episodes of flowing liquid water on the floor of her Gale Crater landing site – an essential prerequisite to life as we know it.

After coring and analyzing the first powder ever drilled from the interior of a Martian rock in February 2013, NASA’s Curiosity robot discovered some of the key chemical ingredients necessary to support life on early Mars billions of years ago.

Curiosity found that the fine-grained, sedimentary mudstone rock at the rovers current worksite inside the Yellowknife Bay basin possesses significant amounts of phyllosilicate clay minerals; indicating the flow of nearly neutral liquid water and a habitat friendly to the possible origin of simple Martian life forms eons ago.

Curiosity's First Sample Drilling hole is shown at the center of this image in a rock called "John Klein" on Feb. 8, 2013, or Sol 182 operations. The image was obtained by Curiosity’s Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI). The sample-collection hole is 0.63 inch (1.6 centimeters) in diameter and 2.5 inches (6.4 centimeters) deep. The “mini drill” test hole near it is the same diameter, with a depth of 0.8 inch (2 centimeters). Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Curiosity’s First Sample Drilling hole is shown at the center of this image in a rock called “John Klein” on Feb. 8, 2013, or Sol 182 operations. The image was obtained by Curiosity’s Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI). The sample-collection hole is 0.63 inch (1.6 centimeters) in diameter and 2.5 inches (6.4 centimeters) deep. The “mini drill” test hole near it is the same diameter, with a depth of 0.8 inch (2 centimeters). Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

The rovers 7 foot (2.1 meter) long robotic arm fed aspirin sized samples of the gray, pulverized powder into the miniaturized CheMin and SAM analytical instruments on Feb. 22 and 23, or Sols 195 and 196. The samples were analyzed on Sol 200 and then the rover experienced her first significant problems since landing on Aug. 5, 2012.

The Chemistry and Mineralogy (CheMin) instrument and Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) instruments test the Martian soil and rock samples to determine their chemical composition and search for traces of organic molecules – the building blocks of life

No organics have been found thus far.

The rover’s science mission has been on hold for nearly a month since “a memory glitch on the A-side computer on Feb. 27, which prompted controllers to command a swap from the A-side computer to the B-side computer,” according to a NASA statement.

“That operator-commanded swap put Curiosity into safe mode for two days. The rover team restored the availability of the A-side as a backup and prepared the B-side to resume full operations.”

The memory issue may have been caused by a cosmic ray strike. The rover suffered another minor setback last week, briefly reentering ‘safe mode’. And in between, a solar storm forced the team to shut Curiosity down for a few more days.

All appears well now.

The next step is to reanalyze those 1st gray rock tailings to continue the hunt for traces of organic molecules.

But the next solar conjunction will interrupt communications starting around April 4 for several weeks. More on that shortly.

After conjunction, Curiosity will resume her drilling campaign

Ken Kremer

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Learn more about Curiosity’s groundbreaking discoveries and NASA missions at Ken’s upcoming lecture presentations:

April 20/21 : “Curiosity and the Search for Life on Mars – (in 3-D)”. Plus Orion, SpaceX, Antares, the Space Shuttle and more! NEAF Astronomy Forum, Suffern, NY

April 28: “Curiosity and the Search for Life on Mars – (in 3-D)”. Washington Crossing State Park, Titusville, NJ, 130 PM

Rover self portrait MAHLI mosaic taken this week has Curiosity sitting on the flat rocks of the “John Klein” drilling target area within the Yellowknife Bay depression. Note gradual rise behind rover. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS/Marco Di Lorenzo/www.KenKremer.com.

Rover self portrait MAHLI mosaic taken this week has Curiosity sitting on the flat rocks of the “John Klein” drilling target area within the Yellowknife Bay depression. Note gradual rise behind rover. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS/Marco Di Lorenzo/Ken Kremer (kenkremer.com)

About 

Dr. Ken Kremer is a speaker, scientist, freelance science journalist (Princeton, NJ) and photographer whose articles, space exploration images and Mars mosaics have appeared in magazines, books, websites and calanders including Astronomy Picture of the Day, NBC, BBC, SPACE.com, Spaceflight Now and the covers of Aviation Week & Space Technology, Spaceflight and the Explorers Club magazines. Ken has presented at numerous educational institutions, civic & religious organizations, museums and astronomy clubs. Ken has reported first hand from the Kennedy Space Center, Cape Canaveral and NASA Wallops on over 40 launches including 8 shuttle launches. He lectures on both Human and Robotic spaceflight - www.kenkremer.com. Follow Ken on Facebook and Twitter

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