[meteorite-list] Mars Curiosity Rover Arrives at Mount Sharp

From: Ron Baalke <baalke_at_meteoritecentral.com>
Date: Thu, 11 Sep 2014 12:38:25 -0700 (PDT)
Message-ID: <201409111938.s8BJcPVb025097_at_zagami.jpl.nasa.gov>


NASA's Mars Curiosity Rover Arrives at Martian Mountain
Jet Propulsion Laboratory
September 11, 2014

NASA's Mars Curiosity rover has reached the Red Planet's Mount Sharp, a
Mount-Rainier-size mountain at the center of the vast Gale Crater and
the rover mission's long-term prime destination.

"Curiosity now will begin a new chapter from an already outstanding
introduction to the world," said Jim Green, director of NASA's Planetary
Science Division at NASA Headquarters in Washington. "After a historic
and innovative landing along with its successful science discoveries,
the scientific sequel is upon us."

Curiosity's trek up the mountain will begin with an examination of the
mountain's lower slopes. The rover is starting this process at an entry
point near an outcrop called Pahrump Hills, rather than continuing on to
the previously-planned, further entry point known as Murray Buttes. Both
entry points lay along a boundary where the southern base layer of the
mountain meets crater-floor deposits washed down from the crater's
northern rim.

"It has been a long but historic journey to this Martian mountain," said
Curiosity Project Scientist John Grotzinger of the California Institute
of Technology in Pasadena. "The nature of the terrain at Pahrump Hills
and just beyond it is a better place than Murray Buttes to learn about
the significance of this contact. The exposures at the contact are
better due to greater topographic relief."

The decision to head uphill sooner, instead of continuing to Murray
Buttes, also draws from improved understanding of the region's geography
provided by the rover's examinations of several outcrops during the past
year. Curiosity currently is positioned at the base of the mountain
along a pale, distinctive geological feature called the Murray
formation. Compared to neighboring crater-floor terrain, the rock of the
Murray formation is softer and does not preserve impact scars, as well.
As viewed from orbit, it is not as well-layered as other units at the
base of Mount Sharp.

Curiosity made its first close-up study last month of two Murray
formation outcrops, both revealing notable differences from the terrain
explored by Curiosity during the past year. The first outcrop, called
Bonanza King, proved too unstable for drilling, but was examined by the
rover's instruments and determined to have high silicon content. A
second outcrop, examined with the rover's telephoto Mast Camera,
revealed a fine-grained, platy surface laced with sulfate-filled veins.

While some of these terrain differences are not apparent in observations
made by NASA's Mars orbiters, the rover team still relies heavily on
images taken by the agency's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) to plan
Curiosity's travel routes and locations for study.

For example, MRO images helped the rover team locate mesas that are over
60 feet (18 meters) tall in an area of terrain shortly beyond Pahrump
Hills, which reveal an exposure of the Murray formation uphill and
toward the south. The team plans to use Curiosity's drill to acquire a
sample from this site for analysis by instruments inside the rover. The
site lies at the southern end of a valley Curiosity will enter this week
from the north.

Though this valley has a sandy floor the length of two football fields,
the team expects it will be an easier trek than the sandy-floored Hidden
Valley, where last month Curiosity's wheels slipped too much for safe

Curiosity reached its current location after its route was modified
earlier this year in response to excessive wheel wear. In late 2013, the
team realized a region of Martian terrain littered with sharp, embedded
rocks was poking holes in four of the rover's six wheels. This damage
accelerated the rate of wear and tear beyond that for which the rover
team had planned. In response, the team altered the rover's route to a
milder terrain, bringing the rover farther south, toward the base of
Mount Sharp.

"The wheels issue contributed to taking the rover farther south sooner
than planned, but it is not a factor in the science-driven decision to
start ascending here rather than continuing to Murray Buttes first,"
said Jennifer Trosper, Curiosity Deputy Project Manager at NASA's Jet
Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. "We have been driving
hard for many months to reach the entry point to Mount Sharp," Trosper
said. "Now that we've made it, we'll be adjusting the operations style
from a priority on driving to a priority on conducting the
investigations needed at each layer of the mountain."

After landing inside Gale Crater in August 2012, Curiosity fulfilled in
its first year of operations its major science goal of determining
whether Mars ever offered environmental conditions favorable for
microbial life. Clay-bearing sedimentary rocks on the crater floor, in
an area called Yellowknife Bay, yielded evidence of a lakebed
environment billions of years ago that offered fresh water, all of the
key elemental ingredients for life, and a chemical source of energy for

NASA's Mars Science Laboratory Project continues to use Curiosity to
assess ancient habitable environments and major changes in Martian
environmental conditions. The destinations on Mount Sharp offer a series
of geological layers that recorded different chapters in the
environmental evolution of Mars.

The Mars Exploration Rover Project is one element of NASA's ongoing
preparation for a human mission to the Red Planet in the 2030s. JPL
built Curiosity and manages the project and MRO for NASA's Science
Mission Directorate in Washington.

For more information about Curiosity, visit:



Information about MRO activities is available online at:


Follow the Curiosity rover mission on social media at:



Guy Webster / DC Agle
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.
818-354-6278 / 818-393-9011
guy.webster at jpl.nasa.gov / agle at jpl.nasa.gov

Dwayne Brown
NASA Headquarters, Washington
dwayne.c.brown at nasa.gov

Received on Thu 11 Sep 2014 03:38:25 PM PDT

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