Mars Armada Resumes Contact with NASA – Ready to Rock ‘n Roll n’ Drill

Article written: 2 May , 2013
Updated: 23 Dec , 2015
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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) – back dropped with Mount Sharp – where the robot is currently working. Curiosity will bore a 2nd drill hole soon following the resumption of contact with the end of the solar conjunction period. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Ken Kremer/Marco Di Lorenzo
See drill hole and conjunction videos below[/caption]

After taking a well deserved and unavoidable break during April’s solar conjunction with Mars that blocked two way communication with Earth, NASA’s powerful Martian fleet of orbiters and rovers have reestablished contact and are alive and well and ready to Rock ‘n Roll ‘n Drill.

“Both orbiters and both rovers are in good health after conjunction,” said NASA JPL spokesman Guy Webster exclusively to Universe Today.

Curiosity’s Chief Scientist John Grotzinger confirmed to me today (May 1) that further drilling around the site of the initial John Klein outcrop bore hole is a top near term priority.

The goal is to search for the chemical ingredients of life.

“We’ll drill a second sample,” Grotzinger told Universe Today exclusively. Grotzinger, of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, Calif., leads NASA’s Curiosity Mars Science Laboratory mission.

“We’ll move a small bit, either with the arm or the wheels, and then drill another hole to confirm what we found in the John Klein hole.”

Earth, Mars and the Sun have been lined up in nearly a straight line for the past several weeks, which effectively blocked virtually all contact with NASA’s four pronged investigative Armada at the Red Planet.

NASA’s Red Planet fleet consists of the Curiosity (MSL) and Opportunity (MER) surface rovers as well as the long lived Mars Odyssey (MO) and Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) robotic orbiters circling overhead. ESA’s Mars Express orbiter is also exploring the Red Planet.

“All have been in communications,” Webster told me today, May 1.

The NASA spacecraft are functioning normally and beginning to transmit the science data collected and stored in on board memory during the conjunction period when a commanding moratorium was in effect.

“Lots of data that had been stored on MRO during conjunction has been downlinked,” Webster confirmed to Universe Today.

Curiosity and Mount Sharp: Curiosity's elevated robotic arm and drill are staring back at you - back dropped by Mount Sharp, her ultimate destination.  The rover team anticipates new science discoveries following the resumption of contact with NASA after the end of solar conjunction.  This panoramic vista of Yellowknife Bay basin was snapped on March 23, Sol 223 prior to conjunction and assembled from several dozen raw images snapped by the rover's navigation camera system.  These images were snapped after the robot recovered from a computer glitch in late Feb and indicated she was back alive and functioning working normally. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Marco Di Lorenzo/KenKremer (kenkremer.com).

Curiosity and Mount Sharp: Curiosity’s elevated robotic arm and drill stare back at you at the John Klein drill site – back dropped by mysterious Mount Sharp. The rover has resumed contact with NASA following the end of solar conjunction. This panoramic vista was snapped on March 23, 2013, Sol 223. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Marco Di Lorenzo/KenKremer (kenkremer.com)

And NASA is already transmitting and issuing new marching orders to the Martian Armada to resume their investigations into unveiling the mysteries of the Red Planet and determine whether life ever existed eons ago or today.

“New commanding, post-conjunction has been sent to both orbiters and Opportunity.”

“And the sequence is being developed today for sending to Curiosity tonight (May 1), as scheduled more than a month ago,” Webster explained.

“We’ll spend the next few sols transitioning over to new flight software that gives the rover additional capabilities,” said Grotzinger.

“After that we’ll spend some time testing out the science instruments on the B-side rover compute element – that we booted to before conjunction.”

Curiosity is at work inside the Yellowknife Bay basin just south of the Martian equator. Opportunity is exploring the rim of Endeavour crater at the Cape York rim segment.

Opportunity Celebrates 9 Years and 3200 Sols on Mars snapping this panoramic view from her current location on ‘Matijevic Hill’ at Endeavour Crater. The rover discovered phyllosilicate clay minerals and calcium sulfate veins at the bright outcrops of ‘Whitewater Lake’, at right, imaged by the Navcam camera on Sol 3197 (Jan. 20, 2013). “Copper Cliff” is the dark outcrop, at top center. Darker “Kirkwood” outcrop, at left, is site of mysterious “newberries” concretions. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Cornell/Marco Di Lorenzo/Ken Kremer

Opportunity Celebrates 9 Years and 3200 Sols on Mars snapping this panoramic view from her current location on ‘Matijevic Hill’ at Endeavour Crater. The rover discovered phyllosilicate clay minerals and calcium sulfate veins at the bright outcrops of ‘Whitewater Lake’, at right, imaged by the Navcam camera on Sol 3197 (Jan. 20, 2013). “Copper Cliff” is the dark outcrop, at top center. Darker “Kirkwood” outcrop, at left, is site of mysterious “newberries” concretions. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Cornell/Marco Di Lorenzo/Ken Kremer

Mars Solar Conjunction is a normal celestial event that occurs naturally about every 26 months. The science and engineering teams take painstaking preparatory efforts to insure no harm comes to the spacecraft during the conjunction period when they have no chance to assess or intervene in case problems arise.

So it’s great news and a huge relief to the large science and operations teams handling NASA’s Martian assets to learn that all is well.

Since the sun can disrupt and garble communications, mission controllers suspended transmissions and commands so as not to inadvertently create serious problems that could damage the fleet in a worst case scenario.

So what’s on tap for Curiosity and Opportunity in the near term ?

“For the first few days for Curiosity we will be installing a software upgrade.”

“For both rovers, the science teams will be making decisions about how much more to do at current locations before moving on,” Webster told me.

The Opportunity science team has said that the long lived robot has pretty much finished investigating the Cape York area at Endeavour crater where she made the fantastic discovery of phyllosilicates clay minerals that form in neutral water.

Signals from Opportunity received a few days ago on April 27 indicated that the robot had briefly entered a standby auto mode while collecting imagery of the sun.

NASA reported today that all operations with Opportunity was “back under ground control, executing a sequence of commands sent by the rover team”, had returned to normal and the robot exited the precautionary status.

Opportunity Celebrates 9 Years on Mars snapping this panoramic view of the vast expanse of 14 mile (22 km) wide Endeavour Crater from atop ‘Matijevic Hill’ on Sol 3182 (Jan. 5, 2013). The rover then drove 43 feet to arrive at ‘Whitewater Lake’ and investigate clay minerals. Photo mosaic was stitched from Navcam images and colorized. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Cornell/Ken Kremer/Marco Di Lorenzo

Opportunity Celebrates 9 Years on Mars snapping this panoramic view of the vast expanse of 14 mile (22 km) wide Endeavour Crater from atop ‘Matijevic Hill’ on Sol 3182 (Jan. 5, 2013). The rover then drove 43 feet to arrive at ‘Whitewater Lake’ and investigate clay minerals. Photo mosaic was stitched from Navcam images and colorized. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Cornell/Ken Kremer/Marco Di Lorenzo

“The Curiosity team has said they want to do at least one more drilling in Yellowknife Bay area,” according to Webster.

Curiosity has already accomplished her primary task and discovered a habitable zone that possesses the key ingredients needed for potential alien microbes to once have thrived in the distant past on the Red Planet when it was warmer and wetter.

The robot found widespread evidence for repeated episodes of flowing liquid water, hydrated mineral veins and phyllosilicates clay minerals on the floor of her Gale Crater landing site after analyzing the first powder ever drilled from a Martian rock.

Video Caption: Historic 1st bore hole drilled by NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover on Sol 182 of the mission (8 Feb 2013). Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS/Marco Di Lorenzo/Ken Kremer (http://www.kenkremer.com/)

During conjunction Curiosity collected weather, radiation and water measurements but no imagery.

Check out this wonderful new story at Space.com featuring Curiosity mosaics by me and my imaging partner Marco Di Lorenzo and an interview with me.

Ken Kremer

Curiosity Rover snapped this self portrait mosaic with the MAHLI camera while sitting on flat sedimentary rocks at the “John Klein” outcrop where the robot conducted historic first sample drilling inside the Yellowknife Bay basin, on Feb. 8 (Sol 182) at lower left in front of rover. The photo mosaic was stitched from raw images snapped on Sol 177, or Feb 3, 2013, by the robotic arm camera - accounting for foreground camera distortion. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS/Marco Di Lorenzo/KenKremer (kenkremer.com).

Curiosity Rover snapped this self portrait mosaic with the MAHLI camera while sitting on flat sedimentary rocks at the “John Klein” outcrop where the robot conducted historic first sample drilling inside the Yellowknife Bay basin, on Feb. 8 (Sol 182) at lower left in front of rover. The photo mosaic was stitched from raw images snapped on Sol 177, or Feb 3, 2013, by the robotic arm camera – accounting for foreground camera distortion. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS/Marco Di Lorenzo/KenKremer (kenkremer.com).

Watch this brief NASA JPL video for an explanation of Mars Solar Conjunction.

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3 Responses

  1. Like it also those nice pic. !!!

  2. Member
    Aqua4U says

    BACK in the saddle again! YES!

  3. Torbjörn Larsson says

    Thanks for the work and detail! Now the public is ready as well. [/gets popcorn]

Comments are closed.