Curiosity rover lifts its mast and uses its high navigation cameras for the first time
The robot vehicle has returned black and white images that capture part of its own body, its shadow on the ground and views off to the horizon.
Spectacular relief – the rim cliffs of the crater in which the rover landed – can be seen in the distance.
The NASA mission came to rest on the floor of a deep depression on Mars’ equator known as Gale Crater, close to a 5.5 km-high mountain.
The plan eventually is to take the robot to the base of this mountain where it is expected to find rocks that were laid down billions of years ago in the presence of liquid water.
Curiosity will probe these sediments for evidence that past environments on Mars could once have favored microbial life.
Since its landing, engineers have been running through a list of health checks and equipment tests.
These have included deploying a high-gain antenna to provide a data link to Earth additional to the UHF satellite relays it uses most of the time. This antenna failed to point correctly at first, but the problem has now been fixed.
The mast was stowed for the journey to Mars, lying flat on the deck of the rover.
Raising it into the vertical was the main task of Sol 2 – the second full Martian day of surface operations.
Locked in the upright position, the masthead and its cameras stand some 2m above the ground.
Curiosity has two pairs of black and white, greyscale, navigation cameras which can acquire stereo imagery to help the rover pick a path across the surface.
These Navcams sit just to the side of two science cameras – one wideangle, one telephoto. It is these Mastcams that will provide the really exquisite, true color views of the Martian landscape. We should see something of their output following Sol 3.
Most of the pictures we have seen so far have been low-resolution thumbnails – easy to downlink. But we are now starting to get one or two hi-res versions also.
Mike Malin, the principal investigator on Mardi (Mars Descent Imager), has released a detailed view taken of the heatshield as it fell away from the rover’s capsule during Monday’s entry descent and landing (EDL).
Eventually hundreds of Mardi pictures will be run together to make a movie of the descent.
With the rover now on the ground and Mardi still pointing downwards, Mike Malin has also got a good shot of the gravel surface under the vehicle.
One instrument on the rover has already had a chance to gather some data. This is the Radiation Assessment Detector (RAD).
Indeed, this instrument has acquired quite a lot of data so far, as it was working for periods even during the rover’s cruise to Mars.
It is endeavoring to characterize the flux of high-energy atomic and subatomic particles reaching Mars from the Sun and distant exploded stars.
This radiation would be hazardous to any microbes alive on the planet today, but would also constitute a threat to the health of any future astronauts on the Red Planet.
In other news, NASA reports it has now found more components of the landing system discarded by the rover during EDL.
These are a set of six tungsten blocks that the rover’s capsule ejected to shift its centre of mass and help guide its flight through the atmosphere.
Satellite imagery has identified the line of craters these blocks made when they slammed into the ground about 12 km from Curiosity’s eventual landing position.
NASA has also confirmed the precise timing of Monday’s touchdown.
The rover’s computer put this at 05:17:57 UTC on Mars. With a one-way light-travel time of 13 minutes and 48 seconds to cover the 250 million km to Earth, this equates to a receive time here at mission control at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory of 05:31:45 UTC (GMT).
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