Summary: Curiosity has crept to the foot of Mt Sharp at last, while Perseverance checks out its equipment.
This rover update will be short but very sweet. While the press and public has been oo’ing and ah’ing over the first panorama from Perseverance, Curiosity yesterday produced its own panorama above showing the looming cliffs of Mt. Sharp, now only a short distance away. The original images can be found here, here, here, and here.
The overview map to the right, from the “Where is Curiosity?” webpage, shows the rover’s location, with the yellow lines roughly indicating the view afforded by the panorama above. If you compare this panorama with the one I posted in my previous rover update on February 12, 2021, you can get a sense of how far the rover has traveled in just the past two weeks. It now sits near the end of the red dotted line pointing at the mountain, right next to what had been a distant cliff and now is only a short distance to the rover’s right.
Somewhere on the mountain slopes ahead scientists have spotted in orbiter images recurring slope lineae, seasonal streaks on slopes that appear in the spring and fade as they year passes. As Curiosity arrives at the next geological layer a short distance ahead at the base of these cliffs (dubbed the sulfate unit), it will spend probably several months studying both that sulfate unit as well as those lineae. Expect the rover to drill a few holes for samples as it watches to see any changes that might occur on that lineae.
Now, on to Perseverance!
The rover’s science and engineering team continue to check out the rover’s systems as they prepare for its first test drive inside Jezero Crater. They have unfolded the rover’s robot arm for the first time and have begun the testing of its many instruments, including its drill.
The image above is a slice from the rover’s first high resolution panorama, looking west across the rocky floor of Jezero Crater. The low hills in the foreground are the front cliffs of the delta that poured through a gap in the crater’s rim sometime in the far past. The high hills are the crater’s western rim.
Eventually Perseverance will travel to that rim, and work its way through that gap to the cratered highlands beyond.
If the engineering check outs all go as planned, the rover will then begin preparations for the test flight of Ingenuity, the little helicopter on board. The rover will need to find a large flat area to deploy the helicopter, then move off to give it flying room. This is expected to happen in the next two months.
Tianwen-1’s unnamed Mars rover
Earlier this week China released the first orbital images taken by its Tianwen-1 orbiter. Both images, indicated by the red boxes in the mosaic of two Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) context camera photos to the right, were of the as-yet unnamed rover’s landing site. The white box marks the area covered by the first high resolution image taken by MRO of this region.
China also announced that the landing of the rover will be delayed to May or June, not late April as first planned. No reasons were given for this delay.
Both Yutu-2 and Chang’e-4 are presently in hibernation mode after completing their 27th lunar day on the far side of the Moon. No other significant updates have been released by the Chinese government.
From the press release: From the moment he is handed a possibility of making the first alien contact, Saunders Maxwell decides he will do it, even if doing so takes him through hell and back.
Unfortunately, that is exactly where that journey takes him.
The vision that Zimmerman paints of vibrant human colonies on the Moon, Mars, the asteroids, and beyond, indomitably fighting the harsh lifeless environment of space to build new societies, captures perfectly the emerging space race we see today.
He also captures in Pioneer the heart of the human spirit, willing to push forward no matter the odds, no matter the cost. It is that spirit that will make the exploration of the heavens possible, forever, into the never-ending future.
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