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Curiosity Gears Up to Use Tools on Its Arms

Curiosity Gears Up to Use Tools on Its Arms

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First Posted: Sep 07, 2012 10:28 AM EDT
Curiosity Gears Up to Use Tools on Its Arms
Mars rover Curiosity experienced its first significant malfunction when one of its two onboard computers became corrupted and failed to turn off and enter "sleep mode." After travelling for nearly 109 meters on the red planet, NASAs Mars Rover is taking a halt in order to prepare using its tools on its arm. (Photo : NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS)

After travelling for nearly 109 meters on the red planet, NASAs Mars Rover is taking a halt in order to prepare using its tools on its arm.

It was Sept. 5 that Curiosity has extended its robotic arm in the first of six to 10 consecutive days of planned activities to test the 7-foot (2.1-meter) arm and the tools it manipulates.

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"We will be putting the arm through a range of motions and placing it at important 'teach points' that were established during Earth testing, such as the positions for putting sample material into the inlet ports for analytical instruments," said Daniel Limonadi of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., lead systems engineer for Curiosity's surface sampling and science system.

"These activities are important to get a better understanding for how the arm functions after the long cruise to Mars and in the different temperature and gravity of Mars, compared to earlier testing on Earth."

Curiosity drives have got it to about one-fourth of the way from the landing site, named Bradbury Landing, to a location selected as the mission's first major science destination, Glenelg.

"We knew at some point we were going to need to stop and take a week or so for these characterization activities," said JPL's Michael Watkins, Curiosity mission manager. "For these checkouts, we need to turn to a particular angle in relation to the sun and on flat ground. We could see before the latest drive that this looked like a perfect spot to start these activities."

At the current location Curiosity will prepare for using its arms to place two science instruments onto rock and soil targets. These activities represent the first steps in preparing to scoop soil, drill into rocks, process collected samples and deliver samples into analytical instruments.

"We're still learning how to use the rover. It's such a complex machine -- the learning curve is steep," said JPL's Joy Crisp, deputy project scientist for the Mars Science Laboratory Project, which built and operates Curiosity.

After this process it is said that Curiosity will continue to move further for a few weeks eastward toward Glenelg. 

"We're getting through a big set of characterization activities that will allow us to give more decision-making authority to the science team," said Richard Cook, Mars Science Laboratory project manager at JPL.

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