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Category: Mars

Mars rover Curiosity set for first ride on Red Planet's surface

Mars Rover Curiosity is set to take its first drive -- albeit a short one -- Wednesday.

Times science writer Amina Khan discussed anticipation at NASA over Curiosity's first moves on the Mars surface.  Khan wrote:

Engineers at JPL have now tested out the six-wheeled rover’s four steering wheels on each corner of its body.  With the wheels rotating as expected, the NASA team members say they will be sending commands that will have the rover move 3 meters forward – about the rover’s length – and then turn 90 degrees and back up. Curiosity will then get its first look at its own landing spot. That exercise should take about 30 minutes, officials said.

In the coming days, the rover will venture 1,300 feet from its landing site to check out another interesting spot called Glenelg, a potentially drill-worthy zone where three types of terrain meet.

PHOTOS: Mars rover mission | PANORAMA: 360-degree view from Curiosity

She also explained how the rover used its laser over the weekend on a nearby rock named Coronation, hitting the softball-size chunk with 30 pulses in 10 seconds.

Continue reading »

NASA renews Caltech contract to operate Jet Propulsion Laboratory

NASA has renewed Caltech's contract to operate the Jet Propulsion Laboratory for the next five years.

The $8.5-billion contract will "ensure that JPL continues to be a national resource for space exploration, scientific leadership, technology and discovery, as well as an inspiration for young scientists and engineers," Jean-Lou Chameau, the university's president, said in a statement released Friday.

JPL was created by a group of Caltech students, led by Frank Malina, in the 1930s after they began conducting rocket tests in the Arroyo Seco. The center was founded in 1943. NASA was formed in 1958 and JPL became the agency's home to planetary science endeavors. 

PHOTOS: Mars rover mission | PANORAMA: 360-degree view from Curiosity

A number of Caltech professors are working on JPL's Mars mission, including lead scientist John Grotzinger.

The news comes as JPL's Mars rover Curiosity begins exploring the planet's surfacing, generates worldwide attention.

Times science writer Amina Khan discussed the ride and other developments involving Curiosity on a Google Plus Hangout on Monday.

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--Tiffany Kelly, Times Community News, and Shelby Grad

NASA already planning new Mars 'InSight' mission with JPL

As the Jet Propulsion Laboratory continues its work with the Mars rover Curiosity, NASA has given the go-ahead to another Red Planet mission. As The Times' Amina Khan reported:

InSight — short for Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport — will use a lander to understand how Mars, Earth and other rocky planets were formed in the early days of the solar system.

Planned to launch in March 2016 and reach Mars six months later, the lander would operate for 720 days and give the Red Planet the equivalent of a doctor's physical — checking its pulse, gauging its reflexes and taking its temperature.

PHOTOS: Mars rover mission

Khan discussed anticipation at NASA over Curiosity's upcoming first ride on the Mars surface. She also explained how the rover used its laser over the weekend on a nearby rock named Coronation, hitting the softball-size chunk with 30 pulses in 10 seconds.

With more than 1 million watts of power in each 5-billionths-of-a-second pulse, the laser shots from the  ChemCam instrument vaporized the rock into plasma. The device then used its spectrometers to analyze the  elemental composition.

Continue reading »

Mars rover Curiosity gets ready for its first road trip on Red Planet

It's shaping up to be another busy week for Mars rover Curiosity.

Times science writer Amina Khan discussed anticipation at NASA over Curiosity's upcoming first ride on the Mars surface. She also explained how the rover used its laser over the weekend on a nearby rock named Coronation, hitting the softball-size chunk with 30 pulses in 10 seconds.

With more than 1 million watts of power in each 5-billionths-of-a-second pulse, the laser shots from the  ChemCam instrument vaporized the rock into plasma. The device then used its spectrometers to analyze the  elemental composition.

INTERACTIVE: Curiosity, from liftoff to landing

Like the initial photos taken by Curiosity’s cameras, the laser exercise was meant to test whether ChemCam was working properly. But it could provide some useful scientific insight. If the composition of the plasma seemed to change over those 30 pulses, then it could mean the laser was digging into successive layers of rock with each pulse.

Scientists and engineers at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory  selected the first drive-to spot — a place about 1,300 feet east-southeast called Glenelg, which is at the nexus of three different types of terrain. One of those types — layered bedrock — would be a tempting first target for Curiosity's drilling tool.

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Mars rover Curiosity to drive to first location [Video discussion]

Scientists and engineers at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in La Cañada Flintridge have chosen the first drive-to spot for the Mars rover Curiosity— a place about 1,300 feet east-southeast called Glenelg, which is at the nexus of three different types of terrain. One of those types — layered bedrock — would be a tempting first target for Curiosity's drilling tool.

The Times will host a Google+ Hangout on the latest updates on the Curiosity mission with science reporter Amina Khan and city editor Shelby Grad today at 1 p.m. PST.

We invite you to join in on the conversation by posting comments below or onto The Times’ Facebook and Google Plus pages or on Twitter using the #asklatimes hashtag.

The rover unleashed its laser this past weekend on a nearby rock named Coronation, hitting the softball-size chunk with 30 pulses in a 10-second span.

Engineers at JPL will soon test the rover's steering actuators. Then Curiosity is to take its first few "steps" — driving perhaps a few feet before turning around and surveying the spot where it landed.

Times science writer Monte Morin reported that this is a stressful time for the drivers, who must sacrifice their lives on Earth to "live on Mars time," a schedule more grueling than any graveyard shift.

For months, operators will be essentially sequestered from family and friends to focus on Mars. While the mission is scheduled to run 23 months, it could last much longer.

The stress can be overwhelming. Separated from the rover by millions of miles, they know they can make no mistakes. A single slip-up can turn the ambitious scientific mission into a $2.5-billion Martian paperweight. It will feel at times like the entire world is a back-seat driver.

The drivers are now awaiting the chance to operate Curiosity, a device twice the size of predecessors Spirit and Opportunity and loaded with improvements such as a nuclear battery and a laser that can vaporize rock.

ALSO:

Learning to 'drive' Mars rover Curiosity [Google+ Hangout]

Mars rover Curiosity plans first road trip, rock-zapping laser test

Driving Mars rover Curiosity will be stressful, isolating [Video discussion]

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Mars rover Curiosity vaporizes rock with laser

NASA's Mars rover Curiosity unleashed its laser this past weekend on a nearby rock named Coronation, hitting the softball-size chunk with 30 pulses in a 10-second span.

With more than 1 million watts of power in each 5-billionths-of-a-second pulse, the laser shots from the  ChemCam instrument vaporized the rock into plasma. The device then used its spectrometers to analyze the  elemental composition.

Mars rover Curiosity vaporizes rock with laser

NASA's Mars rover Curiosity unleashed its laser this past weekend on a nearby rock named Coronation, hitting the softball-size chunk with 30 pulses in a 10-second span.

With more than 1 million watts of power in each 5-billionths-of-a-second pulse, the laser shots from the  ChemCam instrument vaporized the rock into plasma. The device then used its spectrometers to analyze the  elemental composition.

Like the initial photos taken by Curiosity’s cameras, the laser exercise was meant to test whether ChemCam was working properly. But it could provide some useful scientific insight. If the composition of the plasma seemed to change over those 30 pulses, then it could mean the laser was digging into successive layers of rock with each pulse.

PHOTOS: Mars rover mission

Scientists and engineers at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in La Cañada Flintridge have also picked their first drive-to spot — a place about 1,300 feet east-southeast called Glenelg, which is at the nexus of three different types of terrain. One of those types — layered bedrock — would be a tempting first target for Curiosity's drilling tool.

Los Angeles Times science writer Monte Morin discussed how the rover will roam around the Red Planet during a Google+ Hangout on Thursday.

Continue reading »

Driving Mars rover Curiosity will be stressful, isolating [Video discussion]

What will it be like to "drive" the Mars Rover Curiosity?

Los Angeles Times science writer Monte Morin discussed how the rover will roam around the Red Planet during a Google+ Hangout on Thursday.

Morin reported that this is a stressful time for the drivers:

They must sacrifice some of their Earthly existence and live on Mars time, an ever-changing schedule that is tougher than any graveyard shift. For months, operators will be essentially sequestered from family and friends to focus on Mars. While the mission is scheduled to run 23 months, it could last much longer.

The stress can be overwhelming. Separated from the rover by millions of miles, they know they can make no mistakes. A single slip-up can turn the ambitious scientific mission into a $2.5-billion Martian paperweight. It will feel at times like the entire world is a back-seat driver.

Since its dramatic touchdown on Mars on Aug. 5, Curiosity has been doing an extended "stretch" of sorts -- unfolding its limbs, testing its cameras and sending reassuring notes back to Earth.

Continue reading »

Mars rover Curiosity can vaporize rocks, roam the Red Planet

NASA has been preparing for years to move the rover around Mars. And next week, officials are likely to start taking Curiosity for a spin.

Los Angeles Times science writer Monte Morin discussed how the rover will roam around the Red Planet during a Google+ Hangout on Thursday.

Since its dramatic touchdown on Mars on Aug. 5, Curiosity has been doing an extended "stretch" of sorts -- unfolding its limbs, testing its cameras and sending reassuring notes back to Earth.

In the coming days, engineers at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in La Cañada Flintridge will test the rover's steering actuators. Then Curiosity is to take its first few "steps" -- driving perhaps a few feet before turning around and surveying the spot where it landed.

Morin reported that NASA's "drivers" are awaiting the chance to operate Curiosity, a device twice the size of its predecessors, Spirit and Opportunity, and loaded with improvements, such as a nuclear battery and a laser that can vaporize rock.

Unlike the popular vision of mission controllers guiding the rover with a joystick or steering wheel, JPL scientists will spend entire days crafting computer code that must take into account every boulder and crevice that Curiosity spots with its onboard cameras.

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Learning to 'drive' Mars rover Curiosity [Google+ Hangout]

How do you drive the Mars rover Curiosity?

NASA has been preparing for years to move the rover around Mars. And next week, officials are likely to start taking Curiosity for a spin.

Times science writer Monte Morin is to discuss how the rover will roam around the Red Planet during a Google+ Hangout on Thursday at 1 p.m. PDT. Readers can ask questions in the comments below or on Twitter using the hashtag #asklatimes.

Since its dramatic touchdown on Mars on Aug. 5, Curiosity has been doing an extended "stretch" of sorts -- unfolding its limbs, testing its cameras and sending reassuring notes back to Earth.

In the coming days, engineers at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in La Cañada Flintridge will test the rover's steering actuators. Then Curiosity is to take its first few "steps" -- driving perhaps a few feet before turning around and surveying the spot where it landed.

Morin recently wrote about Curiosity's "drivers":

The San Gabriel Mountains rise over a rough patch of sun-baked volcanic boulders, dusty flagstones and earthen slopes. Amid the terrain, a hulking creature of titanium, aluminum and silicon creeps through the sand, its wheels squealing like nails on a chalkboard.

NASA engineer Brian Cooper watches as the mock-up of the Mars rover inches over jagged lava rocks that would have stopped previous versions.

The "Mars Yard" at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory is meant to be a torture test, but this rover is crushing every piece of it beneath its six, snare-drum-sized aluminum wheels.

"We've essentially put a monster truck on Mars," Cooper said as he guided the robot across the landscape in La Cañada Flintridge with his iPhone. Of course, the real rover on Mars won't be so easy, requiring thousands of lines of programming to make its way.

Cooper is part of a select group of engineers and programmers who have trained for years to drive the rover Curiosity on its journey over the harshness of Gale Crater.

Their job is an arcane calling that is mentally grueling and demands a unique temperament and skill set. Only 20 people worldwide have qualified.

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NASA eager to take Mars rover Curiosity for a drive

The second phase of the Mars rover Curiosity's mission is set to begin in the coming days.

The rover is expected to take its first drive, probably at the beginning of next week, NASA scientists and engineers say.

Times science writer Monte Morin will discuss how the rover will roam around the Red Planet during a Google+ Hangout on Thursday at 1 p.m. PDT. Readers can ask questions in the comments below or on Twitter using the hashtag #asklatimes.

Since its dramatic touchdown on Mars on Aug. 5, Curiosity has been doing an extended "stretch" of sorts -- unfolding its limbs, testing its cameras and sending reassuring notes back to Earth.

In the coming days, engineers at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in La Cañada-Flintridge will test the rover's steering actuators. Then Curiosity is to take its first few "steps" -- driving perhaps a few feet before turning around and surveying the spot where it landed.

"We start out crawling before we walk," said mission manager Michael Watkins.

But the team is already itching to get the rover on the road toward its target, Mt. Sharp, a 3-mile-high mound that sits in the middle of Gale Crater.

"We're trying to just keep our eyes on the prize, finish these checkouts and then get going," said deputy project scientist Ashwin Vasavada.

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-- Amina Khan

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