Mike Watkins, NASA: MRO
Spots Martian Lanscape with Curiosity Rover Additions
August 8, 2012
Late Monday night, an image from the
High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera aboard NASA's
Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter captured the Curiosity rover and the
components that helped it survive its seven-minute ordeal from space to
its present location in Marsí Gale Crater.
four main pieces of hardware that arrived on Mars with NASA's Curiosity
rover were spotted by NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO). The
High-Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera captured this
image about 24 hours after landing. The large, reduced-scale image
points out the strewn hardware: the heat shield was the first piece to
hit the ground, followed by the back shell attached to the parachute,
then the rover itself touched down, and finally, after cables were cut,
the sky crane flew away to the northwest and crashed. Relatively dark
areas in all four spots are from disturbances of the bright dust on
Mars, revealing the darker material below the surface dust.
"This latest image is another demonstration of the invaluable assistance
the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter team, and its sister team with the Mars
Odyssey orbiter, have provided the Curiosity rover during our early days
on the Red Planet," said Mike Watkins, mission manager for the Mars
Science Laboratory mission at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in
Pasadena, Calif. "The image not only satisfies our curiosity, it can
provide important information on how these vital components performed
during entry, descent and landing, and exactly locate the rover's
touchdown site within Gale Crater."
The Curiosity rover is in the center of the image. To the right,
approximately 4,900 feet (1,500 meters) away, lies the heat shield,
which protected the rover from 3,800-degree-Fahrenheit (about 2,100
degrees Celsius) temperatures encountered during its fiery descent. On
the lower left, about 2,020 feet (615 meters) away, are the parachute
and back shell. The parachute has a constructed diameter of 71 feet
(almost 21.5 meters) and an inflated diameter of 51 feet (nearly 16
meters). The back shell remains connected to the chute via 80 suspension
lines that are 165 feet (50 meters) long. To the upper-left,
approximately 2,100 feet (650 meters) away from the rover, is a
discoloration of the Mars surface consistent with what would have
resulted when the rocket-powered Sky Crane impacted the surface.
"This is the first of what I imagine will be many portraits HiRISE will
be taking of Curiosity on the surface of Mars," said Sarah Milkovich,
HiRISE investigation scientist at JPL. "The image was taken Monday at
about 10:30 p.m. Pacific when MRO was at an altitude of about 186 miles
(300 kilometers), and we are getting resolution on the surface down to
1.3 feet (39 centimeters) per pixel."
As more of Curiosityís instruments are coming online, more "first
images" are being downlinked from the rover's 17 cameras. The latest to
come in is from the Mars Hand Lens Imager or MAHLI. The focusable color
camera is located on the tool-bearing turret at the end of Curiosityís
robotic arm. Researchers will use it for magnified, close-up views of
rocks and soils and also for wider scenes of the ground, the landscape
or even the rover.
"It is great to have our first MAHLI image under our belt," said Ken
Edgett, principal investigator for MAHLI from Malin Space Science
Systems in San Diego. "We tested the focus mechanism and imager and the
whole system is looking good. We are looking forward to getting up close
and personal with Mars."
The team plans for Curiosity checkout Tuesday include raising the
rover's mast and continued testing of the high-gain antenna.
carries 10 science instruments with a total mass 15 times as large as
the science payloads on the Mars rovers Spirit and Opportunity. Some of
the tools, such as a laser-firing instrument for checking rocks'
elemental composition from a distance, are the first of their kind on
Mars. Curiosity will use a drill and scoop, which is located at the end
of its robotic arm, to gather soil and powdered samples of rock
interiors, then sieve and parcel out these samples into the roverís
analytical laboratory instruments.
To handle this science toolkit, Curiosity is twice as long and five
times as heavy as Spirit or Opportunity. The Gale Crater landing site
places the rover within driving distance of layers of the crater's
interior mountain. Observations from orbit have identified clay and
sulfate minerals in the lower layers, indicating a wet history.
HiRISE is operated by the University of Arizona in Tucson. The
instrument was built by Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp. in Boulder,
Colo. The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter and Mars Exploration Rover
projects are managed by JPL for NASA's Science Mission Directorate,
Washington. The rover was designed, developed and assembled at JPL. JPL
is a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena.
Lockheed Martin Space Systems in Denver built the orbiter.