Happy New Year’s Day 2014 from Mars – Curiosity Celebrates 500 Sols Spying Towering Mount Sharp Destination

by Ken Kremer on January 1, 2014

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Curiosity Celebrates 500 Sols on Mars on Jan. 1, 2014.  NASA’s Curiosity rover snaps fabulous new mosaic spying towering Mount Sharp destination looming dead ahead with her high resolution color cameras, in this cropped view. See full mosaic below. Imagery assembled from Mastcam raw images taken on Dec. 26, 2013 (Sol 494).   Credit: NASA/JPL/MSSS/Marco Di Lorenzo/Ken Kremer- kenkremer.com

Curiosity Celebrates 500 Sols on Mars on Jan. 1, 2014
NASA’s Curiosity rover snaps fabulous new mosaic spying towering Mount Sharp destination looming dead ahead with her high resolution color cameras, in this cropped view. See full mosaic below. Imagery assembled from Mastcam raw images taken on Dec. 26, 2013 (Sol 494).
Credit: NASA/JPL/MSSS/Marco Di Lorenzo/Ken Kremer- kenkremer.com
Story updated

Today, New Year’s Day 2014, NASA’s Curiosity mega rover celebrates a huge mission milestone – her 500th Martian Day on the Red Planet since the death defying touchdown of August 2012.

“500 Sols of Mars: While Earth celebrates #NewYear2014, midnight on Mars mark my 500th day of operations,” she tweeted today.

And Curiosity marked the grand occasion by snapping a fabulous new panorama spying towering Mount Sharp – looming dead ahead in her high resolution color cameras.

You can take in the magnificent Martian view Curiosity sees today – via our newly assembled mosaic of humongous Mount Sharp rising 5.5 kilometers (3.4 mi) into the Red Planets sky; see above and below.

Ascending mysterious Mount Sharp – which dominates the Gale Crater landing site – is the ultimate reason for Curiosity’s being.

Curiosity marks 500 Sols on Mars on New Year’s Day Jan. 1, 2014. Credit: NASA/JPL

Curiosity marks 500 Sols on Mars on New Year’s Day Jan. 1, 2014. Credit: NASA/JPL

NASA’s science and engineering teams dispatched the state-of-the-art robot there because they believe the lower sedimentary layers hold the clues to the time period when Mars was habitable eons ago and they possess the required chemical ingredients necessary to sustain microbial life.

But first she needs to reach the mountains foothills.

So, just like some Earthlings, Curiosity also set a New Year’s resolution she’d like to share with you all – just tweeted all the way from the Red Planet.

“Goals for 2014: Finish driving to Mars’ Mount Sharp & do all the science I can.”

Curiosity Celebrates 500 Sols on Mars on Jan. 1, 2014.  NASA’s Curiosity rover snaps fabulous new mosaic spying towering Mount Sharp destination looming dead ahead with her high resolution color cameras. Imagery assembled from Mastcam raw images taken on Dec. 26, 2013 (Sol 494).   Credit: NASA/JPL/MSSS/Marco Di Lorenzo/Ken Kremer- kenkremer.com

Curiosity Celebrates 500 Sols on Mars on Jan. 1, 2014. NASA’s Curiosity rover snaps fabulous new mosaic spying towering Mount Sharp destination looming dead ahead with her high resolution color cameras. Imagery assembled from Mastcam raw images taken on Dec. 26, 2013 (Sol 494). Credit: NASA/JPL/MSSS/Marco Di Lorenzo/Ken Kremer- kenkremer.com

Part of those goals involve shifting the missions focus to include the search for organic molecules – the building blocks of life as we know it – which may be preserved in the sedimentary rock layers.

“Really what we’re doing is turning the corner from a mission that is dedicated to the search for habitable environments to a mission that is now dedicated to the search for that subset of habitable environments which also preserves organic carbon,” Curiosity Principal Investigator John Grotzinger, of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, said recently at the Dec. 2013 annual meeting of the American Geophysical Union (AGU).

The 1 ton behemoth is in the midst of an epic trek to destination Mount Sharp, roving across 10 kilometers (6 mi.) of the rather rocky crater floor of her landing site inside Gale Crater.

This illustration depicts a concept for the possible extent of an ancient lake inside Gale Crater. The existence of a lake there billions of years ago was confirmed by Curiosity from examination of mudstone in the crater's Yellowknife Bay area.  Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

This illustration depicts a concept for the possible extent of an ancient lake inside Gale Crater. The existence of a lake there billions of years ago was confirmed by Curiosity from examination of mudstone in the crater’s Yellowknife Bay area. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

But the alien crater floor strewn with a plethora of sharp edged rocks is ripping significant sized holes and causing numerous dents in several of the rovers six big aluminum wheels – as outlined in my prior report; here.

Photomosaic shows new holes and tears in several of rover Curiosity’s six wheels caused by recent driving over sharp edged Martian rocks on the months long trek to Mount Sharp. Raw images taken by the MAHLI camera on Curiosity’s arm on Dec. 22, 2013 (Sol 490) were assembled to show some recent damage to several of its six wheels – most noticeably the two here in middle and front. Credit: NASA / JPL / MSSS / Marco Di Lorenzo / Ken Kremer- kenkremer.com See below complete 6 wheel mosaic and further wheel mosaics for comparison

Photomosaic shows new holes and tears in several of rover Curiosity’s six wheels caused by recent driving over sharp edged Martian rocks on the months long trek to Mount Sharp. Raw images taken by the MAHLI camera on Curiosity’s arm on Dec. 22, 2013 (Sol 490) were assembled to show some recent damage to several of its six wheels – most noticeably the two here in middle and front. Credit: NASA / JPL / MSSS / Marco Di Lorenzo / Ken Kremer- kenkremer.com

“Routes to future destinations for the mission may be charted to lessen the amount of travel over such rough terrain, compared to smoother ground nearby,” says NASA.

So far Curiosity’s odometer stands at 4.6 kilometers, following a post Christmas drive on Dec. 26, 2013 (Sol 494) after 16 months roving the Red Planet.

Curiosity’s handlers will be diligently watching the wear and tear on the 20 inch diameter wheels. She needs to rove along a smoother path forward to minimize wheel damage by sharp rocks.

Here’s our latest wheel mosaic from Dec. 26, 2013 (Sol 494) showing a several centimeter wide puncture in the left front wheel, which seems to have suffered the most damage.

The Mount Sharp and wheel mosaics were assembled by the imaging team of Marco Di Lorenzo and Ken Kremer.

Up close view of puncture in one of rover Curiosity’s six wheels caused by recent driving over rough Martian rocks. Mosaic assembled from Mastcam raw images taken on Dec. 26, 2013 (Sol 494) Credit: NASA/JPL/MSSS/Ken Kremer -kenkremer.com/Marco Di Lorenzo

Up close view of puncture in one of rover Curiosity’s six wheels caused by recent driving over rough Martian rocks. Mosaic assembled from Mastcam raw images taken on Dec. 26, 2013 (Sol 494) Credit: NASA/JPL/MSSS/Ken Kremer -kenkremer.com/Marco Di Lorenzo

“Taking stock this holiday season. I’m planning smoother paths for the new year,” Curiosity tweeted.

The team hopes the intrepid robot arrives at the base of Mount Sharp around the middle of this new year 2014, if all goes well.

Shortly thereafter the robot begins a new phase with the dramatic ascent up the chosen entryway which the team dubs the ‘Murray Buttes’ – fittingly named in honor of Bruce Murray, a Caltech planetary geologist, who worked on science teams of NASA’s earliest missions to Mars in the 1960s and ’70s.

The rocky road ahead towards the base of Mount Sharp and the Murray Buttes entry point is shown in this mosaic from Dec. 26, 2013 (Sol 494).  Curiosity needs to rove along a smoother path forward to minimize wheel damage by sharp rocks.  Credit: NASA/JPL/MSSS/Marco Di Lorenzo/Ken Kremer

The rocky road ahead towards the base of Mount Sharp and the Murray Buttes entry point is shown in this mosaic from Dec. 26, 2013 (Sol 494). Curiosity needs to rove along a smoother path forward to minimize wheel damage by sharp rocks. Credit: NASA/JPL/MSSS/Marco Di Lorenzo/Ken Kremer

Murray also was the director of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory from 1976 to 1982 and co-founded the Planetary Society in 1980. He passed away on Aug. 29, 2013.

“Bruce Murray contributed both scientific insight and leadership that laid the groundwork for interplanetary missions such as robotic missions to Mars, including the Mars rovers, part of America’s inspirational accomplishments. It is fitting that the rover teams have chosen his name for significant landmarks on their expeditions,” said NASA Mars Exploration Program Manager Fuk Li, of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) , Pasadena, Calif.

Curiosity has already accomplished her primary goal of discovering a habitable zone on Mars that could support Martian microbes if they ever existed.

NASA’s rover Curiosity uncovered evidence that an ancient Martian lake had the right chemical ingredients, including clay minerals that could have sustained microbial life forms for long periods of time – and that these habitable conditions persisted on the Red Planet until a more recent epoch than previously thought.

Meanwhile, NASA’s Opportunity rover is ascending Solander Point on the opposite side of Mars.

And a pair of newly launched orbiters are streaking to the Red Planet; NASA’s MAVEN and India’s MOM.

And China’s new Yutu lunar rover and Chang’e-3 lander are napping through the lunar night.

For a great compilation of the top space events in 2013- read this article.

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Curiosity, Chang’e-3, SpaceX, Orbital Sciences, LADEE, MAVEN, Mars rover and MOM news.

Ken Kremer

…………….

Learn more about Curiosity, MAVEN, MOM, Mars rovers, SpaceX, Orbital Sciences Antares Jan. 7 launch, and more at Ken’s upcoming presentations

Jan 6-8: “Antares/Cygnus ISS Rocket Launch from Virginia on Jan. 7” & “Space mission updates”; Rodeway Inn, Chincoteague, VA, evening

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

Two Wolves January 1, 2014 at 8:08 PM

Talk about ROI. Time to get U.S. SSTO plans back on track. The DOD can do without a bomber or two.

Evil13RT January 2, 2014 at 11:36 AM

They’ve got enough bombers to last forty years. They should take every last man working on stealth or high speed anything for the military and throw them right at ssto.

Doobie Brothers January 1, 2014 at 9:57 PM

Curiosity, you are my hero! USA! USA! USA!

newSteveZodiac January 2, 2014 at 6:04 AM

What’s really significant is the age-dating of the rocks and finding they were exposed only 80 million years ago. Did Mars only lose its water “recently”? http://www.sciencemag.org/content/early/2013/12/05/science.1247166.abstract

UFOsMOTHER January 2, 2014 at 12:10 PM

wow that wheel damage looks bad ,but I hope it wont stop them from climbing Mount Sharp im so looking forward to that journey….

Prism2Spectrum January 3, 2014 at 5:36 PM

Gazing on the wide panorama, of what appears a sandy-hued mound, overriding impression imparts to me – Desolation.

Thrilling and exciting as a visit to Earth’s neighbor would be ( for scientist and adventurer – longed for dream ), from frame of Curiosity’s view, one can almost environmentally feel the barren reality of the stark scene, right to the bone. In frigid Crater Gale, through rarefied air, gazing towards slopes of Mount Sharp, one living being, all alone, standing there. Awakened, like John Carter from Earth on gray morning Sol, vista of fabled Mars before. What a landfall moment, from harbor so far! Yet, still in view, almost lost in dusky sky ( perhaps ), so subdued, a beautiful “star” of royal-blue, the heart of man, beckon home!

( Or, maybe not. )

– Surprised to learn, Rover’s barrel wheels are made of super-strong, long-enduring – Aluminum. Aluminum? Weight consideration input, trump durability output? So much success! How sad, if torn-up wheels, aborts Mission progress.

Future Report, one hopes never to read: At ascent threshold of discovery, aluminum wheels fell apart on Curiosity. The epic exploration of advanced robotic Rover, maneuvered to base of hoped-for ascent, is now over. Below science-rich slopes, beyond mechanical arm’s investigative reach, a fatally disabled mission – wheels shredded to useless stumps.

Hug Doug January 4, 2014 at 1:06 PM

the damage to the wheels is not a threat to the mission. the hub (where the spokes are connected to the wheel), cleats (the tread on the wheels), and the outside rims are all the wheels really need to grip the ground. you could punch out all of the thin metal between the cleats and it would still move.

the damage to the wheels on the test rover here on Earth is worse, and it moves just fine.

Prism2Spectrum January 5, 2014 at 6:00 AM

Glad to hear it. Thanks for the clarification.

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