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The Mission




Mission: Mars Science Lab
Rocket: Atlas 5 (AV-028)
Launch: Nov. 26, 2011 @ 10:02am EST (1502 GMT)
Landing: Aug. 6, 2012 @ 1:32am EDT (0532 GMT)
Site: Base of Mount Sharp in Gale Crater

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Curiosity's camera mast erected; checkout continues
BY WILLIAM HARWOOD
STORY WRITTEN FOR CBS NEWS "SPACE PLACE" & USED WITH PERMISSION
Posted: August 8, 2012


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The Curiosity Mars rover, stepping through a complex post-landing checklist in near flawless fashion, successfully raised its main camera mast and beamed down razor-sharp navigation camera views of its surroundings in Gale Crater that provide a hint of the spectacular vistas to come when the craft's high-resolution cameras swing into operation, engineers said Wednesday.


These are the first two full-resolution images of the Martian surface from the Navigation cameras on NASA's Curiosity rover. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech
See large image

 
Mission manager Jennifer Trosper said the only anomaly of any significance since landing overnight Sunday -- trouble with a meteorological instrument -- turned out to be a procedural glitch and not a real problem at all.

Along with erecting the remote sensing mast, Curiosity's high-gain antenna, which follows Earth across the martian sky to provide a direct communications link, was deployed and checked out after minor alignment issues were resolved. The high-gain antenna can be used to receive critical commands when two NASA satellites, the Mars Odyssey and the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, are below the horizon,.

"We accomplished the main things of getting our high gain antenna session to work and we have now confirmed that all of our antennas and all of our links on the rover work perfectly," Trosper said. "We feel very confident that we have lots of data capacity now with all of these links. That was one of the major objectives of this first part of the mission, so that's fantastic."

She said Curiosity's nuclear-power pack, which converts the heat produced by the decay of radioactive plutonium-238 dioxide into electricity, is producing more power than engineers expected, about 10 watts more than the 105-watt pre-flight predictions. The additional power, coupled with slightly higher-than-expected temperatures, will benefit rover operations when its science mission begins.

The radioisotope thermoelectric generator, or RTG, is used to recharge the rover's batteries during overnight "sleep" periods. Excess heat from the RTG keeps critical systems warm.

"We have more power than we expected ,and that's going to be fantastic for being able to keep the rover awake longer," Trosper said. "We also have some thermal data indicating it's a little bit warmer than what our predicts say. We're still looking at why that is. ... The huge advantage of that is that in warming up actuators to do things like drive and move the (robotic) arm we'll (use) less energy."

With Curiosity in good health, engineers unveiled new pictures of the rover's immediate surroundings and shots from the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter that included intriguing views of the landing site.

On Tuesday, engineers released MRO photos showing Curiosity, it's heat shield, parachute and rocket-powered "sky crane" where they came to rest on the floor of Gale Crater.

On Wednesday, they unveiled before-and-after views showing where six 25-pound weights slammed into the ground about seven-and-a-half-miles downrange from Curiosity. The weights were ejected during atmospheric entry to shift the spacecraft's center-of-mass and spotting their impact sites from orbit eloquently illustrated the value of the orbiter's cameras and the satellite's eagle-eyed operators.

But the view from Curiosity's navigation cameras gave the science team the biggest thrill of the day. The normal resolution view showed the vista to the north of the rover stretching to the rim of Gale Crater. In the foreground, a few yards from the rover, were two areas where pebbles and topsoil had been blown away by two of the sky crane descent vehicle's eight rocket engines.

"That's the part of the rim that's lowest in elevation, facing the northern lowlands of Mars," said Project Scientist John Grotzinger, describing the view. "The thing that really struck the science team about this image, you would really be forgiven for thinking that NASA was trying to pull a fast one on you and we actually put a rover out in the Mojave Desert and took a picture.

"The thing that's amazing about this is to a certain extent the first impression you get is how earth-like this seems, looking at that landscape."

Views from orbit indicate Curiosity landed on an alluvial fan, a region made up or rock and soil transported into the crater by water in the distant past.

"So all the sedimentary materials ... all those materials are derived from erosion of those mountains there, that's the source region for this material," Grotzinger said. "It's really kind of fantastic."

As for the rocket plume impingement, he said the landing engines provided "free trenching" and "what you see beneath the soil is bedrock." When science operations get underway, the rover will train its instruments on the site to assess the nature of the exposed underlying rock.

"We're looking at a place that feels really comfortable," Grotzinger said. "What's going to be interesting is going to be to find out all the ways that it's different."

Now that Curiosity's remote sensing mast is up, the rover will begin snapping a 360-degree full-color panorama overnight Wednesday and Thursday, showing the crater floor, the distant rim and a three-mile-high mound of layered terrain in the heart of Gale Crater just a few miles away.

At the same time, the rover will be gearing up for a critical computer software transition, loading the programming needed for the next phase of the mission.

"There have been a couple of folks who have been working for over a year on how we transition from the R-9 flight software to the R-10 flight software," Trosper said. "They've generated hundreds of files with thousands of commands that we have to execute over the four sols (martian days) of flight software transition and we're going to uplink those on the high gain antenna on the morning of sol 3 so they're all on board and ready to go for the sol-5-to-9 flight software transition."

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Additional coverage for subscribers:
VIDEO: THE MARS SCIENCE LAB FULL LAUNCH EXPERIENCE PLAY | HI-DEF
VIDEO: ATLAS 5 ROCKET LAUNCHES MARS SCIENCE LAB PLAY | HI-DEF
VIDEO: ONBOARD CAMERA VIEW OF NOSE CONE JETTISON PLAY | HI-DEF
VIDEO: ONBOARD CAMERA VIEW OF THE STAGING EVENT PLAY | HI-DEF
VIDEO: ONBOARD VIEW OF ROCKET RELEASING MSL PLAY
VIDEO: LAUNCH DECLARED A SUCCESS PLAY

VIDEO: LAUNCH REPLAYS: OUR VIEW OF LIFTOFF PLAY | HI-DEF
VIDEO: LAUNCH REPLAYS: VAB ROOF PLAY | HI-DEF
VIDEO: LAUNCH REPLAYS: PATRICK AFB PLAY | HI-DEF
VIDEO: LAUNCH REPLAYS: SOUTH OF THE PAD PLAY | HI-DEF
VIDEO: LAUNCH REPLAYS: THE BEACH TRACKER PLAY | HI-DEF
VIDEO: LAUNCH REPLAYS: SHUTTLE PAD CAMERA PLAY | HI-DEF
VIDEO: LAUNCH REPLAYS: SHUTTLE WATER TOWER PLAY | HI-DEF
VIDEO: LAUNCH REPLAYS: TRACKER WEST OF THE PAD PLAY | HI-DEF
VIDEO: LAUNCH REPLAYS: CLOSE-UP ON UMBILICALS PLAY | HI-DEF
VIDEO: LAUNCH REPLAYS: COMPLEX 41 VIF PLAY | HI-DEF
VIDEO: LAUNCH REPLAYS: THE PRESS SITE PLAY | HI-DEF

VIDEO: PRE-LAUNCH INTERVIEW WITH PROJECT MANAGER PLAY | HI-DEF
VIDEO: NARRATED PREVIEW OF ATLAS 5 ASCENT PROFILE PLAY | HI-DEF
VIDEO: ROCKET'S LAUNCH CAMPAIGN HIGHLIGHTS PLAY | HI-DEF
VIDEO: MSL'S LAUNCH CAMPAIGN HIGHLIGHTS PLAY | HI-DEF
VIDEO: SPACECRAFT CLEANROOM TOUR PLAY | HI-DEF

VIDEO: ATLAS ROCKET ROLLS OUT TO LAUNCH PAD PLAY | HI-DEF
VIDEO: TIME-LAPSE VIEWS OF ROCKET ROLLOUT PLAY | HI-DEF

VIDEO: THE PRE-LAUNCH NEWS CONFERENCE PLAY
VIDEO: CURIOSITY ROVER SCIENCE BRIEFING PLAY
VIDEO: LOOKING FOR LIFE IN THE UNIVERSE PLAY
VIDEO: WHAT WE KNOW ABOUT THE RED PLANET PLAY
VIDEO: ROBOTICS AND HUMANS TO MARS TOGETHER PLAY

VIDEO: PREVIEW OF ENTRY, DESCENT AND LANDING PLAY | HI-DEF
VIDEO: PREVIEW OF CURIOSITY ROVER EXPLORING MARS PLAY | HI-DEF
VIDEO: A FLYOVER OF THE GALE CRATER LANDING SITE PLAY | HI-DEF

VIDEO: NUCLEAR GENERATOR HOISTED TO ROVER PLAY | HI-DEF
VIDEO: MARS SCIENCE LAB MOUNTED ATOP ATLAS 5 PLAY | HI-DEF
VIDEO: MOVING MSL TO ATLAS ROCKET HANGAR PLAY | HI-DEF
VIDEO: SPACECRAFT PLACED ABOARD TRANSPORTER PLAY | HI-DEF

VIDEO: APPLYING MISSION LOGOS ON THE FAIRING PLAY | HI-DEF
VIDEO: MSL ENCAPSULATED IN ROCKET'S NOSE CONE PLAY | HI-DEF
VIDEO: FINAL LOOK AT SPACECRAFT BEFORE SHROUDING PLAY | HI-DEF

VIDEO: HEAT SHIELD INSTALLED ONTO SPACECRAFT PLAY | HI-DEF
VIDEO: BEAUTY SHOTS OF SPACECRAFT PACKED UP PLAY | HI-DEF
VIDEO: ATTACHING THE RING-LIKE CRUISE STAGE PLAY | HI-DEF
VIDEO: PARACHUTE-EQUIPPED BACKSHELL INSTALLED PLAY | HI-DEF
VIDEO: SKYCRANE AND CURIOSITY MATED TOGETHER PLAY | HI-DEF

VIDEO: TWO-HALVES OF ROCKET NOSE CONE ARRIVES PLAY | HI-DEF
VIDEO: CENTAUR UPPER STAGE HOISTED ATOP ATLAS PLAY | HI-DEF
VIDEO: FINAL SOLID ROCKET BOOSTER ATTACHED PLAY | HI-DEF
VIDEO: FIRST OF FOUR SOLID BOOSTERS MOUNTED PLAY | HI-DEF
VIDEO: FIRST STAGE ERECTED ON MOBILE LAUNCHER PLAY | HI-DEF
VIDEO: STAGES DRIVEN FROM HARBOR TO THE ASOC PLAY | HI-DEF
VIDEO: ROCKET ARRIVES ABOARD SEA-GOING VESSEL PLAY | HI-DEF

VIDEO: STOWING ROVER'S INSTRUMENTED ROBOT ARM PLAY | HI-DEF
VIDEO: DEPLOYING CURIOSITY'S SIX WHEELS ON EARTH PLAY | HI-DEF
VIDEO: MMRTG PUT BACK INTO STORAGE AT SPACEPORT PLAY | HI-DEF
VIDEO: NUCLEAR GENERATOR FIT-CHECK ON THE ROVER PLAY | HI-DEF
VIDEO: ROVER'S NUCLEAR POWER SOURCE ARRIVES PLAY | HI-DEF
VIDEO: SPIN-TESTING THE RING-LIKE CRUISE STAGE PLAY | HI-DEF

VIDEO: UNCOVERING CURIOSITY ROVER IN CLEANROOM PLAY | HI-DEF
VIDEO: UNVEILING THE ROCKET-POWERED SKYCRANE PLAY | HI-DEF
VIDEO: UNBOXING THE ROVER FROM SHIPPING CRATE PLAY | HI-DEF
VIDEO: ROVER HAULED FROM RUNWAY TO PHSF FACILITY PLAY | HI-DEF
VIDEO: MARS ROVER ARRIVES AT KENNEDY SPACE CENTER PLAY | HI-DEF

VIDEO: DESCENT WEIGHTS INSTALLED ON BACKSHELL PLAY | HI-DEF
VIDEO: SOLAR ARRAY PANELS ATTACHED TO CRUISE RING PLAY | HI-DEF
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