Home Science NASA’s Mars Curiosity Rover Tackles Its Hardest Climb But

NASA’s Mars Curiosity Rover Tackles Its Hardest Climb But

NASA’s Mars Curiosity Rover Tackles Its Hardest Climb But


NASA's Curiosity Rover Sets Across Mars

NASA’s Curiosity rover lately tackled a difficult climb as much as the crater-rich web site, “Jau,” on its technique to Mount Sharp. Regardless of robust situations, cautious planning enabled a profitable detour and the completion of the investigation. The rover continues its exploration of Mars’ panorama greater up on Mount Sharp. Credit score: NASA

Shortly earlier than the rover’s eleventh anniversary on the Crimson Planet, Curiosity’s crew helped information it up a steep, slippery slope to look at meteor craters.

On August 5, NASA’s Curiosity rover will notch its eleventh yr on Mars by doing what it does finest: finding out the Crimson Planet’s floor. The intrepid bot lately investigated a location nicknamed “Jau” that’s pockmarked with dozens of influence craters. Scientists have not often gotten a close-up view of so many Martian craters in a single place. The most important is estimated to be a minimum of so long as a basketball court docket, though most are a lot smaller.

Overcoming Terrain Challenges

Jau is a pit cease on the rover’s journey into the foothills of Mount Sharp, a 3-mile-tall (5-kilometer-tall) mountain that was coated with lakes, rivers, and streams billions of years in the past. Every layer of the mountain shaped in a distinct period of Mars’ historical local weather, and the upper Curiosity goes, the extra scientists find out about how the panorama modified over time.

Curiosity Views Its Tracks Using Its Navcam

Curiosity Views Its Tracks Utilizing Its Navcam: NASA’s Curiosity left a number of units of tracks the place the rover skilled a fault, or surprising stoppage mid-drive, whereas trying probably the most tough climb the mission has confronted: a slope with a pointy 23-degree incline, slippery sand, and wheel-size rocks. Credit score: NASA/JPL-Caltech

The trail up the mountain during the last a number of months required probably the most arduous climb Curiosity has ever made. There have been steeper climbs and riskier terrain, however the mission has by no means confronted the trifecta of challenges posed by this slope: a pointy 23-degree incline, slippery sand, and wheel-size rocks. This trifecta left the rover struggling by a half-dozen drives in Might and June, vexing Curiosity’s drivers again on Earth.

“In case you’ve ever tried working up a sand dune on a seashore – and that’s primarily what we had been doing – you already know it’s exhausting, however there have been boulders in there as properly,” mentioned Amy Hale, a Curiosity rover driver at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Southern California.

Curiosity’s Large Climb: Learn the way NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover confronted one of many hardest climbs of the mission. Credit score: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Learn how to Drive a Rover

Hale is one in all 15 “rover planners” who write a whole bunch of strains of code to command Curiosity’s mobility system and robotic arm every day. (They don’t function the rover in actual time; directions are despatched to Mars the night time earlier than, and information comes again to Earth solely after the rover has accomplished the work.) These engineers collaborate with scientists to determine the place to direct the rover, what photos to take, and which targets to check utilizing the devices on its 7-foot (2-meter) robotic arm.

However rover planners are additionally continually looking out for hazards. They’ve to jot down instructions to steer round pointy rocks and decrease put on on Curiosity’s battered wheels. Geologists on the crew use their area expertise right here on Earth to assist look out for deep sand and unstable rock formations. There’s even a job on the mission to gauge whether or not a canyon wall may impede radio communications with Earth.

Curiosity Views a Crater at Jau

Curiosity Views a Crater at ‘Jau’: NASA’s Curiosity used its Mastcam to seize this influence crater in a location nicknamed “Jau” on July 25, the three,899th Martian day, or sol, of the mission. This was one in all dozens of influence craters Curiosity stopped by after finishing one in all its most tough climbs ever. Credit score: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Six-Wheeled Ascent to Jau

Curiosity was by no means at risk whereas climbing to Jau: The crew doesn’t plan something that would injury the rover, and the planners write instructions in order that Curiosity will cease shifting if it encounters any surprises. Surprising stoppages – known as “faults” – can happen when the wheels slip an excessive amount of or a wheel is raised too excessive by a big rock. On the path to Jau, the rover discovered itself in each situations on a number of events.

“We had been principally taking part in fault bingo,” mentioned Dane Schoelen, Curiosity’s strategic route planning lead at JPL. “Every day once we got here in, we’d discover out we faulted for one cause or one other.”

The Detour’s Success

As a substitute of constant to wrestle with the unique course, Schoelen and his colleagues put collectively a lateral detour, eyeing a spot roughly 492 ft (150 meters) away the place the incline leveled out. No less than, it appeared to: Planners depend on imagery from NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter to get a tough sense of the terrain, however photographs captured from area can’t present precisely how steep a slope is or whether or not boulders are there.

Map of Curiosity’s Difficult Climb

A Map of Curiosity’s Tough Climb: This map exhibits the route NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover took from Might into July 2023 to finish probably the most tough climb of the mission. Credit score: NASA/JPL-Caltech/USGS-Flagstaff/College of Arizona

The detour would add a couple of weeks to the journey to Jau – until the terrain was hiding extra surprises. If that had been the case, the detour may need been for nothing, and the crew’s scientists must maintain searching for one other path up Mount Sharp.

Luckily, the detour paid off, permitting Curiosity to crest the slope.

“It felt nice to lastly recover from the ridge and see that tremendous vista,” Schoelen mentioned. “I get to have a look at photographs of Mars all day lengthy, so I actually get a way of the panorama. I typically really feel like I’m standing proper there subsequent to Curiosity, trying again at how far it has climbed.”

Because the tough ascent, Curiosity’s scientists have wrapped an investigation of the Jau crater cluster. Frequent on Mars, clusters can kind when a meteor breaks up within the planet’s environment or when fragments are tossed by a big, extra distant meteoroid influence. Scientists wish to perceive how the comparatively smooth rocks of the salt-enriched terrain affected the best way the craters shaped and adjusted over time.

Regardless of all that Mars has thrown at Curiosity, the rover isn’t slowing down. It’ll quickly enterprise off once more to discover a brand new space greater up on Mount Sharp.

Extra Concerning the Mission

Curiosity was constructed by JPL, which is managed by the California Institute of Expertise (Caltech) in Pasadena, California. JPL leads the mission on behalf of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington.



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