A Day in the Life of Curiosity
By Harvey Sapigao
October 20, 2022
After more than a month of traversing through Paraitepuy Pass, I’ve arrived at a region of Mount Sharp my team on Earth call the “sulfate-bearing unit.” The view here is majestic; streaks of light and dark strata cover the hills, sand ridges form crescents of cerulean and rust, and oblique rocks of all shapes and sizes litter the terrain. But enough of sight-seeing — I’ve come here to investigate and unravel Mars’ watery past.
My team at home believes that this region was once a stream or a pond. Now dried-up, the left-over minerals could hold promising clues as to what happened to Mars and its ancient waters. My team already knew of this place long before I arrived here; they used Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter – a good friend of mine – to scan Mars’ surface and identify regions of particular interest. They learned that this place has varied layers of rocks and holds more sulfate than its neighboring regions. Exploring this place could reveal the environmental changes Mars has gone through.
But traveling here was no easy task. The Paraitepuy Pass is as difficult to pass through as it is beautiful to look at. I had to carefully navigate the pointy rocks and gritty sands to avoid getting stuck. Although my 20-inch wheels have been reliable, they have taken quite a beating from my 10 years exploring here. The hills did not make it easier either; they blocked the sky, and I needed to orient myself so my antennas could detect better signals.
Still, I made it. I then had to drill holes to the ground to reveal the layers of rocks. But that also didn’t go without challenges. In 2016, small debris got in the way of my drill feed brake, preventing me from drilling for 19 months. My team has now fixed the issue using a new percussive algorithm, but they were very cautious of me drilling hard rocks. They chose a special rock, nicknamed “Canaima,” for me to drill and extract rock samples.
Sending these rock samples back to Earth would be costly, let alone currently impossible (although my pal Perseverance is already collecting samples for future missions to return home), so I have to examine them on my own, in-situ, and send the results to my team. Luckily, I came prepared. The Chemisty and Mineralogy (CheMin) instrument allows me to identify which minerals are present on the rock samples, and the Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) instrument allows me to analyze organic compounds present in the sample.
It will be a while before we get results from these samples. My ChemMin usually takes up to 10 hours to analyze the samples, and I can only send 32 kilobits of data per second directly to Earth. Not to mention scientists have to examine the data. In the meantime, I snapped a panorama of the view using my Mast Camera (MastCam) for my team to see. It’s not in 4K (it’s only 1600 by 1200 pixels per photo), but I guess it’s enough to make for a nice desktop wallpaper.
More references, for those who are curious:
- Curiosity Mars Rover Reaches Long-Awaited Salty Region
- 10 Years Since Landing, NASA’s Curiosity Mars Rover Still Has Drive