Curiosity: the trek begins with a song

NASA’s Trekkin’
Across Gale Crater’s plains,

On rover Curiosity, run by JPL.
NASA’s Trekkin’
Across Gale Crater’s plains

Boldly seeking science, what wonders will it tell?

(To the tune of “Star Trekkin'”)

Singing to us from Mars

The recent broadcast from Mars of a recorded message by NASA Administrator Charles Bolden (Monday 27th August) was followed on Tuesday the 28th by a more ambitious broadcast, designed to be an inspirational fanfare from Mars to encourage young people to get involved in science, technology and engineering.

Written by, Reach for the Stars is the first-ever song written on Earth and transmitted from the surface of another planet. Opening with the lines “Why do they say the sky’s the limit / When I see the footprints on the Moon?”. The song was originally written in February 2012, but following a meeting with NASA representatives, undertook to rework elements of the piece. “I don’t think it’s the right thing to do by sending a computer beat to Mars, so I wanted to put an orchestra together to show human collaboration,” he explained when talking about the song’s evolution. “That robot is going to Mars, but a piece of humanity, of art, should go with it as well.”

As well as an orchestral arrangement for the music, the song features children singing the verse. The entertainer, well-known for his advocacy of science and technology education through his Foundation, said the debut of the song, transmitted from Gale Crater and played during a NASA special event, is a message of inspiration. “Today is about inspiring young people to lead a life without limits placed on their potential,” he said. “And to pursue collaboration between humanity and technology.”

Stereo View

Also on the 28th (Sol 22) Curiosity departed Bradbury Landing on its longest drive to date. Travelling some 16 metres (52 feet) eastwards, the rover stopped at another of the scour marks created by the descent engines as they blasted the Martian “topsoil” away to expose the rock below.

The rover was due to spend around a full Sol at the spot, using the Mastcam to collect a further set of images of the mission’s ultimate driving destination, the lower slopes of “Mount Sharp”. These images, once received on Earth, will be combined with images already gathered from the last location the rover occupied, some 10 metres (33 feet) away, to produce 3D images of the mound, which should help planners determine potential driving routes up the slopes as well as furnishing more information about the surface features and mesas themselves.

On the road: Curiosity’s rear HazCam captures the tracks left by the rover as it moves away from the centre of Bradbury Landing.

After this, on Sol 24 (August 30th), it is expected the rover will be commanded to start its traverse to Glenelg, an intersection of three terrain types some 400 metres (1300ft) from Bradbury Landing. “We are on our way, though Glenelg is still many weeks away,” said Curiosity Project Scientist John Grotzinger, following the initial move to the second scour mark.

One of the reasons a relatively “close” destination is “weeks” away is that mission personnel hope to find a suitable area in which the rover’s robot arm can be further tested, particularly the scoop system which will be used to gather soil samples for analysis. Should a suitable area be found, it is likely the rover will pause there for at least a week while the robot are is further calibrated and the scoop system tested.

There is also a possibility that the drill system and the MAHLI (Mars Hand Lens Imager, the camera mounted on the robot arm’s turret) may be tested en route to Glenelg, should a suitable opportunity arise, although testing of both may not take place until the rover reaches Glenelg.

A wide-angle image of Curiosity’s destination: the lower slopes of “Mount Sharp”, captured by the Mastcam on August 23rd during the focusing calibration exercise

Curiosity reports in this blog