Former Nasa astronaut Leland Melvin, center, actress Nichelle Nichols the original O'Hura Star Trek character, and musician Will.i.am, right, of The Black Eyed Peas, pose with bloggers at Nasa Social media event at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. The most high-tech rover Nasa has ever designed was speeding toward Mars on Monday to attempt an acrobatic landing on the planet's surface. (AP/Damian Dovarganes)
NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity has come closer to a football-size rock that will be the first for the rover’s arm to examine.
Curiosity is about 8 feet (2.5 meters) from the rock. It lies about halfway from Curiosity’s landing site, Bradbury Landing, to a location called Glenelg.
In coming days, the team plans to touch the rock with a spectrometer to determine its elemental composition and use an arm-mounted camera to take close-up photographs.
Both the arm-mounted Alpha Particle X-Ray Spectrometer and the mast-mounted, laser-zapping Chemistry and Camera Instrument will be used for identifying elements in the rock. This will allow cross-checking of the two instruments.
The rock has been named “Jake Matijevic” after Jacob Matijevic (mah-TEE-uh-vik), who was the surface operations systems chief engineer for Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) and the project’s Curiosity rover. He passed away Aug. 20, at age 64. Matijevic also was a leading engineer for all of the previous NASA Mars rovers: Sojourner, Spirit and Opportunity.
Curiosity now has driven six days in a row. Daily distances range from 72 feet to 121 feet (22 meters to 37 meters).
“This robot was built to rove, and the team is really getting a good rhythm of driving day after day when that’s the priority,” said MSL Project Manager Richard Cook of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif.
The team plans to choose a rock in the Glenelg area for the rover’s first use of its capability to analyze powder drilled from interiors of rocks. Three types of terrain intersect in the Glenelg area – one lighter- toned and another more cratered than the terrain Curiosity currently is crossing. The light-toned area is of special interest because it retains daytime heat long into the night, suggesting an unusual composition.
“As we’re getting closer to the light-toned area, we see thin, dark bands of unknown origin,” said Mars Science Laboratory Project Scientist John Grotzinger of the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena.
“The smaller-scale diversity is becoming more evident as we get closer, providing more potential targets for investigation,” he added.
During Curiosity’s two-year prime mission, researchers will use the rover’s 10 science instruments to assess whether the selected field site inside Gale Crater ever has offered environmental conditions favorable for microbial life.