August 08, 2012
Credit: Credit: NASA/JPL
PASADENA, Calif. — Engineers have used data from the ground and space to pinpoint NASA’s Curiosity rover on the floor of the Gale Crater near the Martian equator, while interplanetary photographers have started dealing with the dusty environment.
The rover itself was in good shape at noon EDT Aug. 7, recharging its batteries with its plutonium-fueled radioisotope thermoelectric generator (RTG) during the Martian night for the beginning of activities on its second “sol,” as the planet’s days are called.
On Sol 1 controllers deployed the high-gain antenna they will use for direct communications with Curiosity when Earth is above the horizon, and determined the adjustments that will be needed in its pointing. Instruments designed to measure radiation and weather were switched on to begin their checkouts, with what mission manager Mike Watkins described as normal calibration issues on the weather station.
“Curiosity is still healthy, still in surface-nominal mode, and still in great shape,” Watkins said as controllers prepared commands for the rover’s next sol. New data received from the rover included its first color photo, shot through a transparent dust cover with the Mars Hand Lens Imager (Mahli), a focusable digital camera mounted on a two-meter arm that will provide close-up images and wider-field context for soil and rock samples.
Ken Edgett of Malin Space Science Systems, the principal investigator on Mahli, says the hazy image collected with the camera’s arm still stowed shows a portion of the crater’s north wall, filtered through the dust that coated the dust cover during landing.
A stop-action video of the landing, shot from the bottom of the rover with another Malin camera — the Mars Descent Imager — shows the landing rockets kicking up clouds of loose dust even from their position at the top of the “sky crane” that lowered Curiosity to the surface. Watkins says the dust won’t hamper the rover’s mechanical operations, and Edgett says the rover’s cameras are designed to deal with it.
Mahli’s dust cover can be opened for imaging, and closed to protect the lens. The optical-quality cover probably will also be cleaned by Martian winds, as has happened with other Mars rovers. With its arm, the Mahli camera will be an extremely flexible tool for documentation and engineering analysis.
“We’ll be able to look back at the rover,” Edgett says. “We’ll be able to look under the rover, in focus. And it has LEDs, so we can take pictures at night.”
A special post-landing imaging session with the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO), which caught Curiosity descending on its parachute Sunday night, has located the rover on the surface, along with its heat shield, parachute and the sky crane descent stage, which landed about 650 meters from the rover after its flyaway maneuver. Watkins says all of the components landed pretty much where entry, descent and landing engineers expected they would, but because of contamination fears Curiosity won’t get much closer to the discarded hardware.