Tag: Mars Science Laboratory

Postscript to the memory of Neil Armstrong

An afterthought about the adventurous spirit of man.

While the focus on the manned exploration of space has declined significantly since those days of the Apollo missions, the spirit to explore has not diminished.  This was underlined in spades by a recent post from the British blog Earth & Solar System that I have been subscribing to since a few weeks ago.

First some background to Earth & Solar System.

This blog reflects the research interests of the Isotope Cosmochemistry and Geochemistry Group at the University of Manchester.  In our laboratories we study samples from comets, interstellar dust, interplanetary dust, Mars, the moon and asteroids to understand how the Earth and the Solar System were formed, how they evolved and became what we see today.  We study the Earth and its chemistry to understand how it works, its mantle, crust, oceans and how we change it.  We want to share and discuss what we find with everyone.

The blog is for sharing science and what we and other research groups discover as we do science in real time.  Discussion, questioning and enquiry are good, but politics, and opinion that can’t be backed up by published scientific work are strictly off-limits and will be removed.

Yet another example of why integrity is the only way forward.

Anyway, the recent post that was published came into my ‘in-box’ on Monday and I wanted to share it with you.  Primarily because the mainstream media have moved on and there is little ‘news’ about NASA’s Curiosity rover.  That’s why this post is so fascinating and it’s reproduced on Learning from Dogs with the permission of Ashley King, the author.

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A busy week

Posted on September 3, 2012 by Ashley King.

The past week has seen NASAs Curiosity rover return more amazing images of the Gale crater, fire up its DAN and SAM instruments, and take its first steps towards Mt. Sharp.

Mastcam view south-west from the Bradbury landing site. The foreground is boulder-strewn and contains the edge of an impact crater. The layered rocks in the background form the base of Mt. Sharp (NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS).

The new images, captured using the 100mm telephoto lens of the Mastcam, provide a glimpse of the geological treats that await scientists at the base of Mt. Sharp.  Of particular interest has been the identification of an unconformity, where two rocks in contact but of different ages indicate a break in the geological record. Satellite data suggests that the rocks lying below the unconformity contain hydrous minerals whilst those above are “dry”. It appears these rock units formed under very different environmental conditions.

Unconformity (marked by white dots) at Mt. Sharp (NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS).

Next, Curiosity had another driving lesson, this time positioning itself over one of the scour marks created during landing. This allowed the rover to continue testing the ChemCam and turn on the Dynamic Albedo of Neutrons (DAN) instrument, which will be used to search for water below the Martian surface. The Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) instrument, comprising of a mass spectrometer, gas chromatograph and tunable laser spectrometer, was also gently woken up. SAM can measure the abundance of C compounds, H, N and O, elements associated with life, in atmospheric and powdered rock samples. A quick test of some Earth air trapped in the instrument since launch confirmed that it is working well and should soon be ready for Martian samples.

Curiosity has now completed four drives and is heading for Mt. Sharp. However, the first target is Glenelg, a rock outcrop 400m to the east of the Bradbury landing site, where it’s hoped Curiosity will start using its drill. Although the journey will take several weeks, Glenelg contains at least three different rock types that will help scientists piece together the geological history of Gale crater.

Leaving the Bradbury landing site. This Navcam image shows the tracks left in the Martian soil by Curiosity (NASA/JPL-Caltech).

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Makes a nice change to forget about the goings-on here on Planet Earth!

Compelled by curiosity

Wonderful news and a fabulous achievement!

I’m writing this as 5.40 am on the 6th.  I let our ‘bedroom’ dogs out for their early-morning pee some 20 minutes ago and then jumped back in bed, turned on my Kindle and went to the BBC News website.  There I read,

Nasa’s Curiosity rover successfully lands on Mars

The US space agency has just landed a huge new robot rover on Mars.

The one-tonne vehicle, known as Curiosity, was reported to have landed in a deep crater near the planet’s equator at 06:32 BST (05:32 GMT).

It will now embark on a mission of at least two years to look for evidence that Mars may once have supported life.

A signal confirming the rover was on the ground safely was relayed to Earth via Nasa’s Odyssey satellite, which is in orbit around the Red Planet.

The success was greeted with a roar of approval here at mission control at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California.

As David Shukman, Science Editor of the BBC, wrote,

The day I watched Curiosity being built in a clean room at Nasa’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena last year, the rover’s six wheels were lying on one work bench while the chassis stood on another and it was hard to believe the white-suited engineers could make sense of the maze of tubes and cabling.

But what they’ve created now stands on the red soil of Mars – and it’s in one piece. In the hallway of a JPL building we were shown a full-size replica. Walking around it made me realise something difficult to grasp from the pictures and video: this is a beast of a machine, a kind of cosmic Humvee with instruments instead of weapons.

Sometimes Nasa public relations can appear bragging. Today it feels justified. Curiosity is all set to discover something remarkable about our strangest neighbour.

Well said and people from all around the world will echo those sentiments.

When I read what Patrice wrote in my Setting the scene post not so many hours ago,

Well, OK, keeping my fingers, and even my arms, crossed here. Seems to me the “sky crane” is over-complex, and I was not reassured when one of the physicist-engineers boasted that they had run the landing millions of time on simulator. Yeap, OK, how many times for real in Earth’s gravity?
I don’t see why they could not have landed normally, LEM style. Especially as they have wheels and could have rolled away to find undistrubed land.
There are no back-ups…
OK, let’s hope I’m wrong to be suspicious…
PA

I instinctively agreed and hoped his worries were misplaced.  They were!  The Curiosity rover is down!  Good luck to the Rover and all those who made it possible.  Well done, the team!

The Curiosity Mission.

Just a personal muse!

This has very little to do with anything other than my lifelong fascination in exploring space, which is why just over 21 hours ago I published the taster for this Post.  That ‘Earthrise’ photograph and the one below changed forever how we feel about the home we all live on.

The famous “Blue Marble” shot.

First Full-View Photo of Earth
Photograph courtesy NASA Johnson Space Center

This famous “Blue Marble” shot represents the first photograph in which Earth is in full view. The picture was taken on December 7, 1972, as the Apollo 17 crew left Earth’s orbit for the moon. With the sun at their backs, the crew had a perfectly lit view of the blue planet.

December 7th, 1972.  Coming up to 40 years ago. I was in my late-20s.  This photograph touched me in ways that I still don’t understand.  This is such a beautiful planet.

Thus Curiosity: NASA’s latest Mars rover is due to touch down at 05:31 UTC Monday 6th August.  I decided to publish this at 04:31 UTC on the 6th one hour before the crucial and novel landing, or in terms of local time here in Payson, Arizona, 9.31 pm on the 5th August.

Wishing the Mission and all the hard-working people who have spent so many years working towards this critical point in time in space history the very best of luck!  It will be wonderful wherever one is on this Planet to wake up on the 6th and hear that Curiosity has landed safely! And if you want to follow the Mission then NASA have a website devoted to the latest news.

Let me close by offering you a couple of videos from the fabulous BBC Horizon science series, full hour-long programme about NASA’s latest Mission to Mars.

NASA Engineer Adam Stelzner describes how he hopes the Curiosity rover will land.

Chief Project Scientist John Grotzinger talks about Curiosity’s scientific instruments.