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Offline jacqmans

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NASA CURIOSITY TEAM PINPOINTS SITE FOR FIRST DRIVE, FIRST LASER USE ON TAP THIS WEEKEND

WASHINGTON -- The scientists and engineers of NASA's Curiosity rover
mission have selected the first 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 thorough checkout. On Saturday night, 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."

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 will be archived and
available for viewing at:

http://www.ustream.tv/nasajpl

The mission is managed by JPL for NASA's Science Mission Directorate
in Washington. The rover was designed, developed and assembled at
JPL, a division of Caltech. ChemCam was provided by Los Alamos
National Laboratory. France provided ChemCam's laser and telescope.

For more information about NASA's Curiosity mission, visit:

http://www.nasa.gov/msl

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