June 6, 2013
Curiosity Ending Glenelg Campaign, Setting Sights On Mount Sharp
Lee Rannals for redOrbit.com — Your Universe Online
NASA's Curiosity rover is wrapping up its objectives in its current location and getting ready to move on to an area about five miles away.
"We're hitting full stride," said Mars Science Laboratory Project Manager Jim Erickson of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif. "We needed a more deliberate pace for all the first-time activities by Curiosity since landing, but we won't have many more of those."
NASA said it is not planning any more rock drilling or soil scooping in the "Glenelg" area that Curiosity entered last fall as the mission's first destination after landing. In order to reach this area, the rover had to drive about a third of a mile from the landing site. Next, Curiosity will be taking off towards Mount Sharp in the southwest, a trip that will take many months.
"We don't know when we'll get to Mount Sharp," Erickson said. "This truly is a mission of exploration, so just because our end goal is Mount Sharp doesn't mean we're not going to investigate interesting features along the way."
NASA said the mission has already accomplished its main science objective, which was finding evidence that an ancient environment in Gale Crater had favorable conditions for microbial life. The team made this discovery after analyzing powder from Curiosity's first drilling on a rock target known as "John Klein."
The Curiosity scientists chose a similar rock, known as "Cumberland," as the second drilling target to provide a comparative analysis of the findings at John Klein. Scientists are still analyzing laboratory-instrument results from portions of the Cumberland sample. NASA said they were able to move through steps it took during the John Klein campaign a little quicker in the Cumberland drilling.
"We used the experience and lessons from our first drilling campaign, as well as new cached sample capabilities, to do the second drill campaign far more efficiently," said sampling activity lead Joe Melko of JPL. "In addition, we increased use of the rover's autonomous self-protection. This allowed more activities to be strung together before the ground team had to check in on the rover."
NASA said its science team has chosen three targets for brief observations before Curiosity leaves the Glenelg area, including the boundary between bedrock areas of mudstone and sandstone and a pitted outcrop known as "Point Lake."
According to Joy Crisp, deputy project scientist for Curiosity, another target to investigate before moving on to Mount Sharp would be an area known as "Shaler," which is thought to be a river deposit.
Scientists believe Point Lake could be volcanic or sedimentary, and a closer look may offer a better understanding of how the rocks sampled with the drill fits into the history of how the environment changed.