How the 1st Year of Curiosity was celebrated at NASA HQ

1 year ago: JPL control room celebrating the successfull landing of Curiosity in Gale Crater.[br]
by Joe Gillin

I had the opportunity to attend the First anniversary celebration for the Curiosity landing on Mars on Tuesday at NASA HQ in Washington, DC. It was exciting to be there and watch a panel of NASA officials, Curiosity mission scientists and engineers, plus a live feed from the two US astronauts aboard the International Space Station (ISS). (The Curiosity team itself participated in a separate event held at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California.)  I was lucky that I could make it to this event, that was open to the public like me, and not just reserved to the media. During the event several of the people around me were able to actively participate by asking questions in person. Also a fair amount of questions via social media were given attention.

Me, Joe Gillin, in the audience (arrow above my head)[br][br][br][br]

The first to speak was Jim Green, the head of NASA’s planetary science programs, who described the mission highlights from the “seven minutes of terror” leading up to the landing, through Curiosity’s initial activities on the surface including the first drilling operation, to the rover’s ongoing journey to Mount Sharp. Of course the pictures really helped to tell the story. The images from the Martian surface are still so spectacular even after seeing them many times before. Green also described upcoming missions including MAVEN, launching this November to orbit Mars, and the Curiosity-class lander/rover set for launch in 2020.[br][br]

Prasun Desai, acting director, Strategic Integration, NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorat, (I know. NASA’s senior job titles can sometimes get longwinded.) described how NASA is developing technologies crucial to increasing the safety and likelihood of success of human expeditions to Mars. Life support, communication, propulsion and Entry-Descent-Landing (EDL) are among the technologies that he emphasized. It feels great to know that all these robots are blazing the way for us, humans, to set foot on Mars ‘by the 2030s’ as NASA Administrator Charles Bolden later in the program assured us.

[br][br]I know that Explore Mars has been working hard since 2010 to get the International Space Station used as training ground for human missions to Mars, and therefore I was happy to hear Sam Scimemi, director of the International Space Station for NASA, describe how the work now being carried out on the ISS is helping to pave the way for human missions to Mars. The plan to have two crewmembers (one American and one Russian) to stay in orbit for a full year in 2015 will contribute to the knowledge needed for keeping explorers healthy and in shape enroute to and from Mars.[br][br][br][br][br][br][br]

For me the highlight of the event was the live feed from the ISS with NASA astronauts Karen Nyberg and Chris Cassidy joining in the celebration of the Curiosity anniversary. They answered a number of questions from the public participants in the event. Nyberg recalled clearly watching the excitement when the Curiosity landed, even though, because of her busy training schedule, she couldn’t remember for sure where she was at the time (perhaps in Russia, she said).

NASA Administrator Charles Bolden joins astronauts Chris Cassidy and Karen Nyberg (live from the ISS) for the Curiosity first anniversary celebration at NASA HQ in Washington, DC.[br]Image credit: Joe Gillin

[br]NASA Administrator Charles Bolden joined the astronauts by appearing on stage in the auditorium. He highlighted the ISS, the commercial cargo and crew programs, Orion and Space Launch System (SLS) programs and the planned asteroid retrieval mission. He emphasized that these efforts are oriented toward the goal of humans to Mars in the 2030’s. Bolden closed the event by thanking the astronauts and other speakers and especially the public for participating (in person and online).

As an aside, after the NASA anniversary event, I grabbed a quick lunch on the way to the Landmark E Street Cinema to see the new movie Europe Report. This film is a fictional but realistically based story of the first human expedition to the Jovian moon Europa. To avoid spoiling the plot, I’ll simply say that the story depicts the kind of courage and self-sacrifice that can be required of those exploring a new frontier for humanity. Also, the graphic depictions of the spacecraft and of Europa and other celestial bodies and of the space environment are spectacular and appear to be quite realistic, at least to my space-aficionado’s eyes. The mission is described as a private venture and the first human deep space mission since 1972. It occurred to me that the real-life Inspiration Mars mission might just fit that description in a few years.

[br]The full NASA TV video can be viewed at the NASA youtube channel

Joe Gillin is an aerospeace engineer, who worked at Lockheed Martin for most of his carreer.  Joe worked on space vehicle systems engineering, mission operations, simulation and software including Satellite Servicing Capabilities missions, Hubble Space Telescope (HST) and other NASA and USAF missions.

Happy Birthday Curiosity: One Year on Mars

August 6, Tuesday

10:45 a.m. – Curiosity: First Year on Mars – JPL (All NASA TV Channels)

12 p.m. – “Curiosity’s First Year on Mars: The Path to Future Robotic and Human Exploration” (ISS Expedition 36 In-Flight Event with Karen Nyberg and Chris Cassidy to mark the anniversary scheduled at 1 p.m.) – HQ/JSC   (All NASA TV Channels)

Watch NASA TV (Public, Media and Education Channels) on your computer using Flash

or UStream[br]

On Tuesday, August 6, 2013, Curiosity team members at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif.,will share remembrances about the dramatic landing night and the overall mission on air on NASA Television and NASA website from 7:45 to 9 a.m. PDT (10:45 a.m. to noon EDT, 4:45-6 am UTC)

Immediately following that program, from 9 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. (noon to 1:30 p.m EDT, 6 am-7:30 am UTC), NASA TV will carry a live public event from NASA Headquarters in Washington. That event will feature NASA officials and crew members aboard the International Space Station as they observe the rover anniversary and discuss how its activities and other robotic projects are helping prepare for a human mission to Mars and an asteroid. [br]Social media followers may submit questions on Twitter and Google+ in advance and during the event using the hashtag #askNASA.

[br]Today, August 5, 2013 Curiosity has reached one year on Mars.[br]She has already achieved her main science goal of revealing ancient Mars could have supported life.

“Successes of our Curiosity — that dramatic touchdown a year ago and the science findings since then — advance us toward further exploration, including sending humans to an asteroid and Mars,” said NASA Administrator Charles Bolden. “Wheel tracks now, will lead to boot prints later.”

Fun facts: [br]Since her landing in a Gale crater on on Aug. 5, 2012, PDT (Aug. 6, 2012, EDT), Curiosity has provided more than 190 gigabits of data; returned more than 36,700 full images and 35,000 thumbnail images; fired more than 75,000 laser shots to investigate the composition of targets; collected and analyzed sample material from two rocks; and driven more than one mile (1.6 kilometers).

FOR MAXIMUM IMAGE SIZE: Click image once, then when popup opens click once again and expand your browser window.

credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Malin Space Science Systems[br]This scene combines seven images from the telephoto-lens camera on the right side of the Mast Camera (Mastcam) instrument on NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity. The component images were taken between 11:39 and 11:43 a.m., local solar time, on 343rd Martian day, or sol, of the rover’s work on Mars (July 24, 2013). That was shortly before Curiosity’s Sol 343 drive of 111 feet (33.7 meters). The rover had driven 205 feet (62.4 meters) on Sol 342 to arrive at the location providing this vista. The center of the scene is toward the southwest.

A rise topped by two gray rocks near the center of the scene is informally named “Twin Cairns Island.” It is about 100 feet (30 meters) from Curiosity’s position. The two gray rocks, combined, are about 10 feet (3 meters) wide, as seen from this angle.

This mosaic has been white-balanced to show what the scene would look like under Earth lighting conditions, which is helpful in distinguishing and recognizing materials in the rocks and soil.

Curiosity drove 699 meters in the past four weeks since leaving a group of science targets where it worked for more than six months. The rover is making its way to the base of Mount Sharp, where it will investigate lower layers of a mountain that rises three miles from the floor of the crater.

Curiosity used the Navigation Camera (Navcam) on its mast to record this westward look on sol 347 (July 28, 2013) of the rover’s work on Mars.  [br]credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Curiosity finds water-bearing minerals and Clay minerals

Last week we heard that Curiosity found signs of  environmental conditions that were favorable for microbial life in the past. Additional findings presented today (March 18) at a news briefing at the Lunar and Planetary Science Conference in The Woodlands, Texas, suggest those conditions extended beyond the site of the drilling. [br]Using infrared-imaging capability of a camera on the rover and an instrument that shoots neutrons into the ground to probe for hydrogen, researchers have found more hydration of minerals near the clay-bearing rock John Klein at locations Curiosity visited earlier.

The Mastcam can also serve as a mineral-detecting and hydration-detecting tool. The brightness in different Mastcam near-infrared wavelengths can indicate the presence of some hydrated minerals. The technique was used to check rocks in the “Yellowknife Bay” area where Curiosity drilled. Some rocks in Yellowknife Bay are crisscrossed with bright veins. These bright veins contain hydrated minerals that are different from the clay minerals in the surrounding rock.  [br]The Dynamic Albedo of Neutrons (DAN) instrument detects hydrogen beneath the rover while it is driving.  The detected hydrogen is mainly in water molecules bound into minerals. At Yellowknife Bay a lot of waterbound minerals were detected.

The Alpha Particle X-ray Spectrometer (APXS) on the robotarm tells us that the wet environmental processes that produced clay at Yellowknife Bay did so without much change in the overall mix of chemical elements.  The elemental composition of John Klein rocks matches the composition of basalt as it has basalt-like proportions of silicon, aluminum, magnesium and iron. Basalt is the most common rock type on Mars. It is igneous (made with fire), but it is also thought to be the parent material for sedimentary rocks Curiosity has examined. At first the dust on the rocks of Yellowknife Bay made detection by the APXS not quite possible. After the dust was brushed off by Curiosity the team found taht the rocks were not changed much by mineral alteration, according to Mariek Schmidt of Brock University, Saint Catharines, Ontario, Canada. The sedimentary rocks at Yellowknife Bay likely formed when original basaltic rocks were broken into fragments, transported, re-deposited as sedimentary particles, and mineralogically altered by exposure to water.

Curiosity Briefing March 18, 1 pm EDT (17:00 UT)

The next Curiosity briefing will come life to us from the Lunar and Planetary Science Conference in Houston, Texas. It will be webcasted on ustream at Mars 18, 1 pm EDT. (17:00 UT)

If you want to meet the scientists briefing us in a more personal way, visit for Mariek Schmidt her pinterest page, where she pins those objects that interest her. Seeing her name made me wonder whether she is related to the Maarten Schmidt of JPL who discovered the first Quasar in 1963, but that is an aside. [br]Mariek herself is a Brock University professor. She moved to Pasadena last September from Canada to work as a participating scientist with NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory team. Mariek reviews the data send by Curiosity on the chemical and mineralogical changes that Martian rocks have experienced over millennia. [br]Schmidt hopes to prove the theory that life once existed on Mars, but that’s not her main goal. The important goal for her is to determine whether or not Mars is a habitable environment for humans.[br]To determine if Mars can host people Curiosity needed to find clay. The reason why clay samples are important is that they’re hydrated minerals. They form under specific conditions that are likely more neutral conditions that are more favourable to life. [br]Good news is that Curiosity already found clay in its first drilled sample, signaling that the planet once had a wet and hospitable environment. This means that the question of Mariek is answered and that while the Curiosity mission has just begun being only 7 months on Mars at this point in time.

HiRISE snaps picture of Spirit in Gusev Crater

A frozen Spirit rover in Gusev Crater imaged by the HiRISE camera on the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO). It captured an area where Mars Rover Spirit lost communication, indicating it had ‘died’. Spirit actual came to say hello as a very bright speck of light in this image. It was taken from such an angle that it captured Sunlight reflecting from the rovers Solar panels.