NASA - Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) patch.
Aug. 11, 2012
This mosaic image shows part of the left side of NASA's Curiosity rover and two blast marks from the descent stage's rocket engines. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech.
NASA's Mars rover Curiosity will spend its first weekend on Mars transitioning to software better suited for tasks ahead, such as driving and using its strong robotic arm.
The rover's "brain transplant," which will occur during a series of steps Aug. 10 through Aug. 13, will install a new version of software on both of the rover's redundant main computers. This software for Mars surface operations was uploaded to the rover's memory during the Mars Science Laboratory spacecraft's flight from Earth.
"We designed the mission from the start to be able to upgrade the software as needed for different phases of the mission," said Ben Cichy of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., chief software engineer for the Mars Science Laboratory mission. "The flight software version Curiosity currently is using was really focused on landing the vehicle. It includes many capabilities we just don't need any more. It gives us basic capabilities for operating the rover on the surface, but we have planned all along to switch over after landing to a version of flight software that is really optimized for surface operations."
Witnessing the Descent Stage Crash
Now You See an Impact Plume, Now You Don't
Images above: These alternating views taken by the Hazard-Avoidance cameras on NASA's Curiosity rover show evidence for an impact plume created when the rover's sky crane fell to the Martian surface. The sky crane helped the rover gently land on Mars before flying away and crashing in a planned maneuver. The view flips between images taken about 45 minutes apart. The image taken earlier shows evidence for the "blob" thought to be the impact plume; by the time the later image was taken, the blob had disappeared. These images are from the rover's rear Hazard-Avoidance cameras. They are one-quarter of full resolution (256 by 256 pixels). Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech.
A key capability in the new version is image processing to check for obstacles. This allows for longer drives by giving the rover more autonomy to identify and avoid potential hazards and drive along a safe path the rover identifies for itself. Other new capabilities facilitate use of the tools at the end of the rover's robotic arm.
MSL Curiosity landing & dropping on Mars. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech
While Curiosity is completing the software transition, the mission's science team is continuing to analyze images that the rover has taken of its surroundings inside Gale Crater. Researchers are discussing which features in the scene to investigate after a few weeks of initial checkouts and observations to assess equipment on the rover and characteristics of the landing site.
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 includes the 13.8 minutes needed for confirmation of the touchdown to be radioed to Earth at the speed of light.
Curiosity Rover Update - Surface Operations Begin. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech
Curiosity carries 10 science instruments with a total mass 15 times as large as the science payloads on NASA's Mars rovers Spirit and Opportunity. Some of the tools, such as a laser-firing instrument for checking rocks' elemental composition from a distance, are the first of their kind on Mars. Curiosity will use a drill and scoop, which are located at the end of its robotic arm, to gather soil and powdered samples of rock interiors, then sieve and parcel out these samples into the rover's analytical laboratory instruments.
To handle this science toolkit, Curiosity is twice as long and five times as heavy as Spirit or Opportunity. The Gale Crater landing site at 4.59 degrees south, 137.44 degrees east, places the rover within driving distance of layers of the crater's interior mountain. Observations from orbit have identified clay and sulfate minerals in the lower layers, indicating a wet history.
Mars Science Laboratory is a project of NASA's Science Mission Directorate. The mission is managed by JPL. Curiosity was designed, developed and assembled at JPL, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena.
For more about NASA's Curiosity mission, visit: http://www.nasa.gov/mars and http://marsprogram.jpl.nasa.gov/msl .
Follow the mission on Facebook and Twitter at: http://www.facebook.com/marscuriosity and http://www.twitter.com/marscuriosity
Images (mentioned), Video (mentioned), Text, Credits: NASA / Dwayne Brown / JPL / Guy Webster.