The rover Curiosity has taken its first drive on Martian soil. It was not a long drive – the entire process took about 16 minutes – and the rover actually drove maybe four or five of those minutes, but it was still an historic event.
The rover drove forward, turned about 120 degrees and backed up. It is now in a better position and there are now those first wheel marks on Mars.
Curiosity’s earthbound team is continuing to check all the instruments to make ready for more drives. They will begin slowly with a 10-meter drive and, if confident, will work to 40 then to even 100 meters a day.
On Monday, Curiosity moved its arm for the first time since before its November 2011 launch.
The arm is seven feet long and holds several tools including a camera, drill, spectrometer, scoop and mechanisms for sieving and portioning samples of powdered rock and soil.
“We have had to sit tight for the first two weeks since landing while other parts of the rover were checked out, so to see the arm extended in these images is a huge moment for us,” said Matt Robinson in a Jet Propulsion Laboratory/NASA release. Robinson is the lead engineer for Curiosity’s robotic arm testing and operations. “The arm is how we are going to get samples into the laboratory instruments and how we place other instruments onto surface targets.”
It will still be weeks before the arm delivers its first sample of Martian soil to the science laboratory inside the rover.
In a press conference Tuesday, the JPL Curiosity team spoke about taking it slow, making certain that every move and every instrument survived the landing in tact.
One piece of equipment that appears to have been a victim of the crash was one of the two wind sensors that are part of the Rover Environmental Monitoring Station (REMS).
REMS is Curiosity’s weather station that was provided by Spain. The equipment is designed to check air and ground temperatures, air pressure and other variables. Included in this equipment are two sets of REMS wind sensors. One of the sensors is not sending data.
Curiosity Deputy Project Scientist Ashwin Vasavada from JPL gave one explanation of the possible damage from the dirt and small rocks that were tossed up during the landing.
“The sensors have exposed circuitry,” he said during Tuesday’s press conference. He added that engineers and scientists had decided to use the open circuitry because of the readings they would receive. They evaluated the possibility of damage and felt the wind instruments were worth the risk.
One of the sensors does work and, Vasavada said, they are expecting to obtain valuable information from the wind studies.
Gov. Edmund G. Brown visited JPL yesterday and took a comprehensive tour of the MSL facilities, including the mission control and the instrument testing facility where he was shown a full-scale duplicate of Curiosity used for testing. Afterward, he addressed a pool of JPL employees.
“As a non- scientist, I didn’t take a lot of science. I didn’t take any science in college,” said Gov. Brown. “I majored in Latin and Greek. I put my gaze backwards a couple thousand years, to ancient Greece and ancient Rome.
“You can learn a lot of stuff, by the way, because human beings have been screwing up for a long time. So there is a lot to be learned by seeing what has been done before, but if that’s all you do, you don’t get anywhere. So I’m glad to come and be amongst people who are looking outward and into the future and inventing and creating and engineering such marvelous vehicles and ideas and journeys, part of which I saw today.
“I am very grateful for every one of you, for what you are doing. It’s important for California, it’s important for our country, it’s important for the world and for the future.”
Charly Shelton also contributed to this story.