SCIENCE ON THE WING

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Category: Planets

Curiosity Gives A Wink And A Nod To JPL

Some of you are probably asking why are they using Morse Code code on the Curiosity Rover tires instead of just printing the letters JPL on the tires for Visual Odometry?

The original Engineering design and indeed the original Rover tested in the desert had tires that read JPL as they covered the landscape.  Apparently, someone at NASA HQ (we are told by a reliable source) said “no, no, and no” to JPL on the tires.  However, Visual Odometry remains an important part of this mission; a decision had to be made about how to accomplish this task.

Image

Original engineering model tires in the back of a garage in the Mars Yard at JPL.                      photo credit: Hellwinger

Although we can’t say for certain, it would seem that using letters rather than random holes makes sense and given that there are three horizontal treads are devoted to odometric encoding on the Rover’s tires that would give them three letters to work with.

The rest is history as they say; a decision to use Morse Code gives the science and engineering team its Visual Odometry while conveying a sence of wonder and whimsy.  For me, I like to think that every time Curiosity looks back at where it’s been, she sees a reminder of her first home, Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

Rovin’, Rovin’, Rovin’

This panorama is a great series of shots of Curiosity’s beefy tires.  You notice the strategic holes in the tires?  They are actually Morse Code, spelling out   J – P – L, the acronym for NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.  This unique pattern is used by Curiosity to accurately gauge how far it’s been by creating a unique pattern to use for visual odometry.

By using a known pattern, the Rover can look back and assess any number of situations; when traveling in a relatively featureless area, it can see where it has been, judge traction in high slippage areas, such as sand dunes and compare how far it has actually come along with its actual location.   All of this by seeing this unique pattern in the Martian regolith!

. – – – (J),   . – – . (P),   . –  .. (L)                                   photo credit: NASA

To learn more about Visual Odometry visit:

http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/msl/news/msl20120829f.html

ASPX Cal Target

One of the tools that Curi uses to do science on Mars is a part of our earth.  This is a calibration target for Alpha Particle X-Ray Spectrometer (APXS) instrument. This cal target is made from a piece of dark rock collected in Socorro, N.M. You can use anything as a cal target, provided its well known and characterized.

black rock cal target made from a rock slab from Socorro, New Mexico                                            photo credit: NASA/JPL

And the crowd goes wild…

We’re watching as people all around the world cheer on the Rover that could!  The energy is palpable as we stop to wait for the OK, a signal that tells us Curiosity is on the surface and ON.

What we didn’t expect was to see images!  Staring at the big screens, the question in the air was “what’s that?” followed by a cheer that broke like a wave as we realized it was an image Curiosity was sending back from Mars.

 

photo credit: JPL

 

Curiosity LIVES!

Having spent a portion of the afternoon volunteering at Planetfest, the Planetary Society’s exhibition and lecture event, we hunkered down to watch MSL make it’s descent.

Here’s NASA’s quick look at “Fast Facts” on the Curiosity Rover:

Mission name: Mars Science Laboratory

Rover name: Curiosity rover

Size: About the size of a small SUV — 10 feet long (not including the arm), 9 feet wide and 7 feet tall — (about 3 meters long (not including the arm), 2.7 meters wide, and 2.2 meters tall), or about the height of a basketball player.

Arm Reach: About 7 feet (2.2 meters)

Weight: 900 kilograms (2,000 pounds)

Features: Geology lab, rocker-bogie suspension, rock-vaporizing laser and lots of cameras

Mission: To search areas of Mars for past or present conditions favorable for life, and conditions capable of preserving a record of life

Launched:
7:02 a.m. PST, Nov. 26, 2011
(10:02 a.m. EST)

Landed:
10:32 p.m. PDT, Aug. 5, 2012
(1:32 a.m. EDT, Aug. 6, 2012)

Length of mission on Mars: The prime mission will last one Mars year or about 23 Earth months.

Follow Your Curiosity:
Participate

Mission Fact sheet: Download theMars Science Laboratory Fact Sheet (PDF, 562 KB)

Mars View Of Earth

Earth as seen from Mars                        photo credit unavailable

Have you ever wondered what we look like from the Red Planet?  Imagine, standing on the rust covered surface of Mars and waiting for the Earth to rise; this is what you’d see.

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Promoting Science and Science Education

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SCIENCE ON THE WING

Promoting Science and Science Education