Having landed successfully on the Red Planet on August 6 after an eight-month journey, NASA's Mars rover Curiosity went through more than a month of diagnostic checks and sensor calibration as a part of its "commissioning phase" to ready the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) for its mission ahead. The mission would be taking it over stretches of the Martian landscape. Its most immediate destination within its landing site, the Gale Crater, was a point designated as Glenelg, where different types of Martian geology presented a unique opportunity for the MSL to study the Red Planet’s past. At a distance of 400 meters, Curiosity will be taking its time getting there as almost half way it stopped to conduct its first “close-contact science”, using its array of sensors to inspect some volcanic rock.
According to NASA, Curiosity stopped by the volcanic rock, named “Jake Mateijevic” after a deceased NASA scientist, right on schedule and got a chance to use some of its onboard tools. While “Jake Mateijevic” itself is not really being considered to possess high scientific value, its examination did represent the chance for Curiosity to use its Mahli “hand lens”, APXSX X-ray spectrometer and its infrared laser, ChemCam. Mounted on Curiosity’s robotic arm, the sensors were employed to assess the elemental composition of this Martian basalt.
While no information has been released by NASA as to the MSL’s examination of “Jake Mateijevic”, the US space agency has said that the rover has since moved on from the rock, travelling, on Monday, around 42m, the most it has done in one go since landing, continuing its trek to Glenelg. On the way it is also believed that Curiosity will also be taking soil samples.
So far the MSL has transmitted a great deal of information back to mission control. While taking numerous pictures of its surroundings as well as a couple of self-portraits, the rover, while in its commissioning phase, was able to study Mars’ two moons, Phobos and Deimos. The rover shot the two moons as they made their passage against the sun and images were beamed back to headquarters.
It is at Glenelg, the rover’s immediate destination, where Curiosity will really pick up the pace to study the Red Planet, hopefully intending to use its drill to take samples of this geological junction to be studied by the MSL’s onboard laboratories.
Curiosity’s mission is planned to last around one Martian year or two Earth years, but NASA scientists have said that while funding may stop, Curiosity will continue to operate on Mars much like previous rovers that have been sent to the planet.