NASA’s Mars Curiosity rover has reached the south side of Pinnacle Ridge… What’s next?

NASA’s Mars Curiosity rover has reached the south side of Pinnacle Ridge… What’s next?
NASA’s Mars Curiosity rover has reached the south side of Pinnacle Ridge… What’s next?

This image was taken by the left navigation camera aboard NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity on Sol 4180 (2024-05-10 03:55:37 UTC). Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

The Curiosity team successfully navigated complex terrain to position the rover on the south side of Pinnacle Ridge, facing the decision of whether to further explore this area or continue along the Gediz Vallis Canal. After extensive discussion, the decision was made to continue along the canal, carrying out various scientific observations and environmental monitoring along the way.

We had one hell of a ride planned for Wednesday, with lots of twists and turns over very rough terrain. So the team was thrilled to learn that everything was completed as planned when we received our downlink at around 4 a.m. PT on Friday morning! This successful ride means that Curiosity is now parked on the south side of Pinnacle Ridge, the last area of ​​the upper Gediz Vallis Ridge that we had planned to survey before crossing the Gediz Vallis Channel. We visited the north side of Pinnacle Ridge last week and collected all sorts of data that tells us a lot about the composition and textures of the rocks that form the ridge.

Decision Making at Pinnacle Ridge

We had a big decision to make Friday morning: now that we can see that the south side of Pinnacle Ridge is traversable, should we drive there to get additional contact science data on the rocks of the Gediz Vallis Ridge, or should we -we continue to follow Gediz. Canal Vallis towards our planned crossing point? Driving up to Pinnacle Ridge at this location could give us the opportunity to learn more about the materials that make up the ridge and the role of water in this area, but it could also take several soils and not teach us anything. much more than we have already learned. from our investigation of the north face of Pinnacle Ridge.

Consensus and observations

My role today was that of long-term planner, which meant I had to lead the team discussion to discuss the pros and cons of this decision and (ideally) help the group reach consensus. We talked a lot about how the rocks we could see from our current location compared to the rocks we’ve already studied on the north side, and ultimately the 25 or so scientists who were part of the tactical operations planning group today have reached a consensus decision that we would rather move on than spend any more time here.

So today we will collect lots of Mastcam observations and then continue our way up and along the canal, heading about 23 meters to the southwest. Before leaving we will also take the opportunity to do a little contact science on the rocks at our feet, by doing a DRT followed by APXS and MAHLI observations on the target named “Boyden Cave”, APXS and MAHLI observations on a nearby (dusty) terrain a target named “Royal Arches”, and finally a single MAHLI target from a nearby rock named “Quarry Peak”. We will also collect two ChemCam LIBS observations of “Otter Lake”, a target very close to Royal Arches, and another nearby rock named “Nevada Falls”. A series of environmental monitoring observations will complete the plan.

Thoughts on Mars Exploration

I really enjoy ops days like today. We arrived this morning with a whole new Martian view to admire, and then we had to work together as a team to make a quick decision on what to do next. I think the pace of that decision-making, the ability to discuss difficult choices with a group of really smart, passionate people, and the realization that those decisions guide the path of a one-ton vehicle on a planet entirely different are one of the most important factors. the coolest ways to spend a morning.

Written by Abigail Fraeman, planetary geologist at NASAJet Propulsion Laboratory

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