NASA’s Mars Rover Curiosity is now getting ready to begin its journey to Mount Sharp — the rover’s primary science destination on the Red Planet. The enormous Mount Sharp has been Curiosity’s eventual goal since the early planning stages of the Mars Science Laboratory mission.
Before beginning the 5-mile journey to Mount Sharp, Curiosity has just a couple of more things to finish up in the Glenelg area that it has been in since last fall. The journey to the base of Mount Sharp is expected to take at least a couple of months — though it may take longer if Curiosity spots something interesting along the way.
As far as when exactly Curiosity will reach Mount Sharp, Mars Science Laboratory Project Manager Jim Erickson had this to say: “We don’t know when we’ll get to Mount Sharp. This truly is a mission of exploration, so just because our end goal is Mount Sharp doesn’t mean we’re not going to investigate interesting features along the way.”
While the beginning of the new journey is certainly exciting, there is no denying that the mission has been on something of a roll since landing — completing multiple first-time activities, and achieving its main science objective. “Analysis of rock powder from the first drilled rock target, ‘John Klein,’ provided evidence that an ancient environment in Gale Crater had favorable conditions for microbial life: the essential elemental ingredients, energy and ponded water that was neither too acidic nor too briny.”
That finding is currently being second checked — via a sample of a second, similar rock. This second rock — dubbed the ‘Cumberland’ rock — was obtained from the same general area as the first was. This time though, everything is moving much faster and smoother.
“For the drill campaign at Cumberland, steps that each took a day or more at John Klein could be combined into a single day’s sequence of commands.”
“We used the experience and lessons from our first drilling campaign, as well as new cached sample capabilities, to do the second drill campaign far more efficiently,” said sampling activity lead Joe Melko of JPL. “In addition, we increased use of the rover’s autonomous self-protection. This allowed more activities to be strung together before the ground team had to check in on the rover.”
“We’re hitting full stride,” said Jim Erickson of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif. “We needed a more deliberate pace for all the first-time activities by Curiosity since landing, but we won’t have many more of those.”