Curiosity Gets All Grabby
August 21, 2012

Curiosity Extends Its Reach By Stretching Out Its Arm

Michael Harper for — Your Universe Online

Some of the recent news from the Mars Curiosity rover can seem incredibly trivial and elementary at first. Once the full realization of the importance and extreme difficulty involved in every part of this process sinks in, these little motions and achievements once thought to be trivial become truly a thing of magic and wonder. To put it differently, every little thing the Curiosity Mars Rover does is magic.

As such, NASA watched with great pride yesterday as Curiosity reached out its arm for the very first time since its November 2011 launch.

Curiosity´s arm is no trivial matter. Stretched out, it measures an impressive 7 feet long and is decked with an array of tools, such as a camera, drill, spectrometer, a scoop and even a mechanism which can collect and portion samples of Martian dirt and soil.

"We have had to sit tight for the first two weeks since landing, while other parts of the rover were checked out, so to see the arm extended in these images is a huge moment for us," said Matt Robinson, lead engineer for Curiosity´s robotic arm testing and operations.

"The arm is how we are going to get samples into the laboratory instruments and how we place other instruments onto surface targets."

Several weeks of calibration and testing still lie ahead before Curiosity can begin scooping and analyzing the Martian soil, however.

Monday´s stretch was used to not only check that the arm was still functioning, but to also test the motors and each of the five joints which comprise the lengthy and expensive robotic appendage. Once the arm was outstretched and all was found to successfully survive the long journey and treacherous landing, the arm was then stowed once more to prepare for Curiosity´s first drive.

The sample system chief engineer for Curiosity at NASA´s JPL was quite pleased with the Monday Maneuver. “It worked just as we planned,” said Louise Jandura.

"From telemetry and from the images received this morning, we can confirm that the arm went to the positions we commanded it to go to."

All told, Curiosity´s arm measures nearly 2 feet in diameter and, after being loaded down with tools, weighs about 66 pounds.

"We'll start using our sampling system in the weeks ahead, and we're getting ready to try our first drive later this week," said another Curiosity specialist at JPL, Mars Science Laboratory Deputy Project manager Richard Cook.

The world watched 2 weeks ago as the newest Rover landed on the surface of Mars despite some of the most extreme circumstances. Now, Curiosity will begin a 2-year mission using 10 instruments to assess whether our nearest planetary neighbor has ever offered the environmental conditions for life, even in its microbial form.

Earlier this week, the JPL team also tested out another tool on Curiosity, firing its ChemCam laser at a small rock dubbed “Coronation” with 30 quick pulses. Though this first firing was meant as a test and calibration, Curiosity was still able to send back some useful data that the NASA team will be analyzing very soon.