Mars rover carries out arm exercises

NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover is taking a break from driving to prepare for full use of the tools on its arm.

It extended its robotic arm Wednesday, as part of a series of activities designed to test its seven-foot arm and the tools it manipulates. The tests are set to take between six and ten days.

“We will be putting the arm through a range of motions and placing it at important ‘teach points’ that were established during Earth testing, such as the positions for putting sample material into the inlet ports for analytical instruments,” says Daniel Limonadi, lead systems engineer for Curiosity’s surface sampling and science system.

“These activities are important to get a better understanding for how the arm functions after the long cruise to Mars and in the different temperature and gravity of Mars, compared to earlier testing on Earth.”

After driving 358 feet, the rover’s now about a quarter of the way from its landing site to its first major science destination, Glenelg.

“We knew at some point we were going to need to stop and take a week or so for these characterization activities,” says Michael Watkins, JPL’s Curiosity mission manager.

“For these checkouts, we need to turn to a particular angle in relation to the sun and on flat ground. We could see before the latest drive that this looked like a perfect spot to start these activities.”

The current stop will prepare Curiosity for using the arm to place two science instruments onto rock and soil. The team also needs to prepare to scoop soil, drill into rocks, process collected samples and deliver samples into analytical instruments.

Over the next few days, the team will use the turret’s Mars Hand Lens Imager to observe its calibration target and the Alpha Particle X-Ray Spectrometer to read what chemical elements are present.

“We’re still learning how to use the rover. It’s such a complex machine – the learning curve is steep,” says JPL’s Joy Crisp, deputy project scientist for the MSL Project, which built and operates Curiosity.

Once all this is done, Curiosity will make for Glenelg, in a journey expected to take a few weeks. Here, three diffferent types of terrain intersect, making it a good spot to find a rock for drilling and analysis.