Tips for Reaching the Ridgetop Safely and Successfully

The Curiosity Rover mission has faced numerous challenges in its quest to reach the Gediz Vallis Ridge. Despite setbacks and diversions, the rover is now just a few meters away from being able to study the ridge material up close. In the meantime, the team has planned a series of remote sensing activities to gather valuable data.

During the recent drive on Sol 3921, the rover encountered sliding and uncertain footing, preventing it from reaching the cluster of boulders at its destination. As a result, all science activities for the weekend will be conducted through targeted remote sensing rather than using the rover’s arm instruments. The Mastcam will capture a 360-degree panorama, providing a spectacular view of the surroundings. It will also focus on capturing large mosaics of the transition between the dark “float” rock ridge material and the sulfate-bearing bedrock, as well as multispectral imaging of nearby boulders named “Skiathos” and “Skopelos.”

The ChemCam will use its laser to zap the same rocks, studying possible surface coatings and compositional variations between rock layers. Additionally, the telescopic mode of its RMI camera will zoom in on a light-colored bedrock wall next to a basin of dark sand, continuing its characterization of the layering on Kukenan Butte. Meanwhile, the Navcam will capture dust devil movies and measure dust in the air across Gale Crater. It will also capture images of clouds and their shadows on the surrounding peaks.

A short 2-meter drive, referred to as a “bump,” will bring Curiosity within arm’s reach of the boulder collection on Sol 3924. Following this drive, the rover will conduct AEGIS and MARDI imaging on Sol 3925 to further document the geology of its new location. The plan concludes on Sol 3926 with atmospheric observations, including a dust measurement and a Navcam 360 phase function sky survey.

The next plan for Curiosity, set for Monday, aims to finally conduct contact science on the diverse cluster of GV Ridge boulders. However, challenges remain, such as ensuring a successful drive that does not leave the rover’s wheels perched on rocks on the steep slope. Additionally, the team faces the obstacle of a very small decisional downlink on Monday, limiting the data available to plan the rover’s next steps. On top of that, JPL is in the path of the first-ever tropical storm watch issued in Southern California by the National Hurricane Center. The hope is that the “GV Ridge Triangle” will not pose any further challenges before Curiosity reaches the top.

As the Curiosity Rover continues its mission on Mars, each step towards the Gediz Vallis Ridge brings new excitement and challenges. The team’s dedication to overcoming obstacles and their meticulous planning of remote sensing activities highlight the importance of exploration and understanding the geology of Mars. Stay tuned for further updates on Curiosity’s journey and discoveries.