After a week of checks of all the instruments on Curiosity the destination of her first drive has been announced. The target area, named Glenelg, is a natural intersection of three kinds of terrain. As the first drive, the first drilling, the first anything of a robot on Mars is a huge moment in her mission, there was quite a debate before this target was chosen.
Before Curiosity actually will drive over to Glenelg to zap this rock with her ChemCam this instrument will be tested thoroughly. On Saturday night, Aug. 18, ChemCam is expected to “zap” rock N165. It will be the first time such a powerful laser has been used on the surface of another world. The plan is to hit rock N165 with 30 times in 10 seconds with 14 millijoules of energy. That zapping will be the ultimate test of the rover’s ChemCam on Mars.
As Mars has no GPS system every move during a drive needs to be preplanned and uploaded to the rover. To check out her four steerable (front and back) wheels Curiosity will be commanded to turn each of them side-to-side before ending up with each wheel pointing straight ahead. On a later day, the rover will drive forward about 3 meters (10 feet) which is her full length. Next she will drive backwards (in reverse) for about 2 meters (7 feet). It is clear that for a rover that has been send to Mars to drive 20 kilometers during her prime mission this first test of her wheels is important.
All what is planned for the rover was discussed in a briefing on August 17, 2012. The briefing can be heard here
Personally I am disappointed in having only sound and no visuals of the people talking. Ofcourse having something is better than nothing, but I am not a happy trooper here, as I have found that just listening to an explanation does not do it for me. I can only hope that I will get used to it.
An earlier audio briefing (August 14) can be found here
Before her first drive to Glenelg can occur Curiosity had to go through a series of steps to ensure that all was well with her. Even though the rover can handle steep cliffs of up to 50 degrees and has a ground clearance of 60 centimeters (almost 2 feet), it’s not possible for her to drive everywhere. To loose soil and too steep rockfaces are out.
Upon landing, Curiosity completed a series of automated computer sequences to make sure all systems are operating as expected and it checked her immediate environment:
* Checked Martian temperatures to make sure they don’t necessitate restrictions on operations
* Tested communications with Earth using the High-Gain Antenna
* Tested communications with Earth and orbiting spacecraft using the UHF antenna
* Unfolded the mast carrying the panoramic and navigation cameras and some of the science instruments
* Took images of her surroundings after landing, which helped to pinpoint her exact location
* Started to test her many science instruments; tests that will continue to take place as exploration of Gale Crater gets under way
Rock N165, the first target of ChemCam, just to the right of Curiosity
The larger mosaic image, taken on August 8 with her MastCam, shows rock N165 within the terrain around Curiosity. Firing the ChemCam at N165 will heat the surface of the rock so high that it will be turned into plasma, a glowing, ionized gas, that can be analyzed with Curiosity’s telescope and spectograph to identify the chemical elements in the rock.