Curiosity's Belly
September 12, 2012

Weekend Checks Go Well For Curiosity On Mars

Lee Rannals for - Your Universe Online

Over the weekend, NASA's Curiosity rover went through some activities designed to check and characterize precision movements by the rover's robot arm.

The activities help to confirm that the rover's tools and robotic arm have good health, and its Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) is useful.

MAHLI took an image with its reclosable dust cover open for the first time during the activity, confirming sharp imaging capability had been obscured by a thin film of dust on the cover.

Curiosity's MAHLI cam took pictures of cameras at the top of the rover's mast, of the underbelly of the rover, and of its own calibration target.

"Wow, seeing these images after all the tremendous hard work that has gone into making them possible is a profoundly emotional moment," said MAHLI Principal Investigator Ken Edgett of Malin Space Science Systems, San Diego. "It is so exciting to see the camera returning beautiful, sharp images from Mars."

NASA has made some select MAHLI images available in raw form, as well as some other images taken by Curiosity's cameras.

MAHLI's calibration target includes a 1909 Lincoln penny that Edgett had purchased herself for this purpose.

"We're seeing the penny in the foreground and, looking past it, a setting I'm sure the people who minted these coins never imagined," Edgett said in the release.

The penny's purpose is to give geologists an idea of the scale of objects Curiosity will be imaging, and also it helps to give the public a familiar object for perceiving size easily when viewing images taken by MAHLI.

"The folks who drive the rover's arm and turret have taken a 220-pound arm through some very complex tai chi, to center a penny in an image that's only a few centimeters across," said MAHLI Deputy Principal Investigator Aileen Yingst of the Tucson-based Planetary Science Institute. "They make the impossible look easy."

The arm characterization activities will continue for a few days before Curiosity resumes driving toward a mid-term science destination area called Glenelg, according to NASA.

At Glenelg, the rover will use its scoop to collect a soil sample, and will also drill to collect a sample of powder from inside a rock.

Curiosity is five weeks into a two-year prime mission on Mars, where it will be using its 10 science instruments to assess whether the selected study area has ever offered environmental conditions favorable for microbial life.