August 23, 2012
Mars Rover Begins Its Trek Across the Surface of Mars
April Flowers for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online
“Science is no more than an investigation of a miracle we can never explain, and art is an interpretation of that miracle.” “ Ray Bradbury, The Martian Chronicles
NASA announced that Curiosity has begun driving across the Martian landscape, leaving its landing site for the first time since the August 5th landing. Combining forward, turn and reverse segments, Curiosity made its first movements, ending up roughly 20 feet from where it started.
The landing site, named Bradbury Landing, was named after the late author, Ray Bradbury. NASA approved the choice to name the site for Bradbury, who died earlier this year.
"This was not a difficult choice for the science team," said Michael Meyer, NASA program scientist for Curiosity. "Many of us and millions of other readers were inspired in our lives by stories Ray Bradbury wrote to dream of the possibility of life on Mars." Bradbury's first, and arguably most influential, book was a collection of stories called The Martian Chronicles about men from Earth attempting to colonize the Red Planet.
In a career spanning more than 70 years, Ray Bradbury inspired generations of readers to dream, think and create. A prolific author of hundreds of short stories and nearly 50 books, as well as numerous poems, essays, operas, plays, teleplays, and screenplays, Bradbury was one of the most celebrated writers of our time.
His groundbreaking works include Fahrenheit 451, The Martian Chronicles, The Illustrated Man, Dandelion Wine, and Something Wicked This Way Comes. He wrote the screenplay for John Huston's classic film adaptation of Moby Dick, and was nominated for an Academy Award. He adapted 65 of his stories for television's "The Ray Bradbury Theater," and won an Emmy for his teleplay of "The Halloween Tree."
The reason Curiosity hasn't moved before now is that the team at NASA were checking out the instruments onboard and making sure everything is working properly. Wednesday's drive was another check on the list as it confirmed the health of Curiosity's mobility system and produced the rover's first wheel tracks on Mars, documented in images taken after the drive. During a news conference at NASA'S Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), the mission's lead rover driver, Matt Heverly, showed an animation derived from visualization software used for planning the first drive.
"We have a fully functioning mobility system with lots of amazing exploration ahead," Heverly said.
The team plans to have Curiosity spend several more days working near Bradbury Landing, performing instrument checks and studying the surroundings. Then the rover will embark toward its first driving destination approximately 1,300 feet to the east-southeast.
"Curiosity is a much more complex vehicle than earlier Mars rovers. The testing and characterization activities during the initial weeks of the mission lay important groundwork for operating our precious national resource with appropriate care," said Curiosity Project Manager Pete Theisinger of JPL. "Sixteen days in, we are making excellent progress."
Don't think the Curiosity has been idle, though. The science team has already begun pointing instruments on the rover's mast to investigate specific targets of interest near and far. The Chemistry and Camera (ChemCam) instrument used a laser and spectrometers this week to examine the composition of rocks exposed when the landing engines blew away several inches of overlying material.
The instrument's principal investigator, Roger Weins of Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico, reported that measurements made on the rocks in this scoured-out feature called Goulburn suggest a basaltic composition. "These may be pieces of basalt within a sedimentary deposit," Weins said.
Image 2 (below): A close-up view of Curiosity's first tire tracks. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech