More than 36 hours after landing in Gale Crater on Mars, NASA’s Curiosity rover is largely in good health and is returning new images, project officials said Tuesday morning.
“Curiosity’s still healthy, still in surface nominal mode, and still in great shape,” said mission manager Mike Watkins during a press conference at JPL Tuesday morning, after the rover had completed its activities on “Sol 1”, its first full day on the surface. The team has encountered a few minor issues as it checks out the rover, including one with the high gain antenna, which did not point as precisely to Earth as desired when it was deployed during the day. “We have a correction for that bias, and we’re going to send it up with our next command load and establish direct to Earth communications” by tomorrow, he said.
At the press conference NASA also released an image of the landing site taken by the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera on the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter spacecraft. The image clearly showed Curiosity as well as its heatshield, backshell and parachute, and skycrane. “This is what we call the crime scene image,” said HiRISE scientist Sarah Milkovich. The skycrane and backshell/parachute each landed about 600-650 meters away from Curiosity, although in different directions; the heat shield is about 1,200 meters from the rover in another direction.
A puff of dust seen in one of the first rear-facing Hazcam images taken by Curiosity after landing is in the same direction as the skycrane, suggesting that Hazcam might have seen the plume of dust created by the skycrane’s impact. “What precisely we saw in those images, I think the team has to talk about it and have to mull that over,” she said. “I don’t think we can rule it out,” Watkins added. He later said that once Curiosity extends its mast, the cameras at the top of the mast should be high enough to see the skycrane crash site over the flat terrain.
NASA also released the first image taken by the Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) camera on Curiosity, which is mounted on a robotic arm currently stowed; the camera, in that orientation, is facing north. The image was clouded somewhat by dust on its transparent cover, and was primarily intended as a focus test for the camera, but is the first color image taken by the rover since landing.
It was a particularly beautiful picture for MALHI principal investigator Ken Edgett of Malin Space Science Systems (MSSS), who at times was a little choked up talking about the image and his reaction. “I waited a long time for this,” he said. MSSS also provided the MARDI camera that provided images of the descent released Monday. “We built four of the color cameras on this rover we now know that [at least] two of them are working. It’s been a long journey and it’s been really awesome, that’s all I can say.”