MessageToEagle.com - The scientists and engineers of NASA's Curiosity rover mission have selected
the first driving destination for their one-ton, six-wheeled mobile Mars laboratory.
The target area, named Glenelg, is a natural intersection of three kinds of terrain. The choice was
described by Curiosity Principal Investigator John Grotzinger of the California Institute of Technology
during a media teleconference on Aug. 17.
"With such a great landing spot in Gale Crater, we literally had every degree of the compass to choose
from for our first drive," Grotzinger said. "We had a bunch of strong contenders.
It is the kind of dilemma planetary scientists dream of, but you can only go one place for the first
drilling for a rock sample on Mars.
That first drilling will be a huge moment in the history of Mars exploration."
The trek to Glenelg will send the rover 1,300 feet (400 meters) east-southeast of its landing site.
One of the three types of terrain intersecting at Glenelg is layered bedrock, which is attractive
as the first drilling target.
"We're about ready to load our new destination into our GPS and head out onto the open road," Grotzinger said.
"Our challenge is there is no GPS on Mars, so we have a roomful of rover-driver engineers providing our
turn-by-turn navigation for us."
Prior to the rover's trip to Glenelg, the team in charge of Curiosity's Chemistry and Camera instrument,
or ChemCam, is planning to give their mast-mounted, rock-zapping laser and telescope combination a
Curiosity Rover Report - Aug. 17, 2012. Credits: JPL/NASA
On Saturday night, Aug. 18, ChemCam is expected to "zap" its first rock in the name of planetary science.
It will be the first time such a powerful laser has been used on the surface of another world.
"Rock N165 looks like your typical Mars rock, about three inches wide. It's about 10 feet away," said
Roger Wiens, principal investigator of the ChemCam instrument from the Los Alamos National Laboratory
in New Mexico. "We are going to hit it with 14 millijoules of energy 30 times in 10 seconds.
It is not only going to be an excellent test of our system, it should be pretty cool too."
Click on image to enlarge
This image shows a closer view of the landing site of NASA's Curiosity rover and a destination nearby known as Glenelg.
Curiosity landed inside Gale Crater on Mars on Aug. 5 PDT (Aug. 6 EDT) at the blue dot. It is planning on driving to an area
marked with a red dot that is nicknamed Glenelg. That area marks the intersection of three kinds of terrain.
Starting clockwise from the top of this image, scientists are interested in this brighter terrain because it may
represent a kind of bedrock suitable for eventual drilling by Curiosity. The next terrain shows the marks of many
small craters and intrigues scientists because it might represent an older or harder surface. The third, which is the kind
of terrain Curiosity landed in, is interesting because scientists can try to determine if the same kind of rock texture at
Goulburn, an area where blasts from the descent stage rocket engines scoured away some of the surface, also occurs at Glenelg.
The science team thought the name Glenelg was appropriate because, if Curiosity traveled there, it would visit the area
twice -- both coming and going -- and the word Glenelg is a palindrome. After Glenelg, the rover will aim to drive to
the base of Mount Sharp.
These annotations have been made on top of an image acquired by the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment on NASA's
Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Arizona
Mission engineers are devoting more time to planning the first roll of Curiosity. In the coming days,
the rover will exercise each of its four steerable (front and back) wheels, turning 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 one rover-length (10 feet, or 3 meters), turn 90 degrees, and then kick into reverse
for about 7 feet (2 meters).
"There will be a lot of important firsts that will be taking place for Curiosity over the next few
weeks, but the first motion of its wheels, the first time our roving laboratory on Mars does some actual
roving, that will be something special," said Michael Watkins, mission manager for Curiosity from the Jet
Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif.
The Mars Science Laboratory spacecraft delivered Curiosity to its target area on Mars at 10:31:45 p.m.
PDT on Aug. 5 (1:31:45 a.m. EDT on Aug. 6), which included the 13.8 minutes needed for confirmation
of the touchdown to be radioed to Earth at the speed of light.
The audio and visuals of the teleconference are archived and available for viewing at:
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