Curiosity Wiggles Its Wheels, Shoots Another Laser Shot, Gets Ready for Test Drive
August 22, 2012 • 7:49AM

Curiosity will soon be on the move. Mission manager Mike Watkins reported during a teleconference yesterday that on Monday, the rover "wiggled its wheels" in place. Tuesday evening (California time) engineers sent commands up to the rover (morning on Mars) to instruct it to drive about 6 feet (one rover length), turn, and then head back to near where it started. This will be executed by Curiosity mid-afternoon Mars time today, the warmest part of the day.

For the first three months, the human team is on rover (Mars) time, to be able to coordinate its activities with Curiosity's. The Mars day is about 40 minutes longer than ours, so if today it is 1PM at the same time in both places, tomorrow, when it is 1PM here, it will be 1:40PM on Mars, Mars moving forward 40 more minutes each day.

The exercise will take about a half an hour, Watkins explained, since the rover will start out moving slowly. He reported that the rover team is now planning the drive to the first target, Glenelg, on Sol 20 (today is Sol 16), which Curiosity will do cautiously, in 10-20 meter chunks.

While the rover has still been in place, and testing its instruments, the laser in the ChemCam suite of instruments took its second laser shot at a target, aimed at the Goulburn scour marks near Curiosity. These were created by the force of the descent engines when the rover landed. It looks like there is bedrock that has been exposed from the blast. The results from the Goulburn test are expected to be transmitted back to Earth today.

Javier Gomez-Elvira, Principal Investigator on Curiosity's REMS weather station, reported that "the weather is sunny." Weather and atmospheric data will be coming down every day, and although the only kink in Curiosity is the damage of one of two wind sensors on REMS, there is confidence there will not be much of an impact on the science.

Igor Mitrofanov, from Russia's renowned Space Research Institute, Principal Investigator on the Dynamic Albedo of Neutrons experiment, reported that they have had a successful operation of the neutron generator, which will probe the subsurface to look for the signature of hydrogen. Scientists expect that any hydrogen found will be in the form of water, and that the water will not be liquid but in hydrated minerals.

Watkins answered a query, that, yes, most of the 400 members of the science team are on "Mars time," and most of them are still at JPL. There is also a team of about 300 engineers planning and carrying out the mission. These teams will be on Mars time for 90 days.