There is a reason that Mars Curiosity news has been scarce lately, a reason that Newton and Copernicus and Galileo would appreciate. This spring, Mars and Earth have been in Solar Conjunction, that is, on opposite sides of the Sun. Even without the current unusually big Solar storms, this celestial arrangement pretty much halts effective communication between the two planets for a significant period.  The latest video update from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory explains it all and teases us a bit about the science coming up now that the conjunction is ending. For my bandwidth challenged friends, I have planted a full transcript out in the tall grass, for which I alone deserve the criticism for any errors or omissions.  

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Hi. I'm Rick Welch,  Tactical Operations Mission Manager and this is your Curiosity Rover Report.

As many of you know, Curiosity was in a period called Solar Conjunction. During this time, Mars and Earth are on opposite sides of the Sun. It can be hard to communicate between the rover and Earth during this time and so we did a minimum of science and we all took a well deserved Spring Break.

Our first activity after Solar Conjunction was to update Curiosity's software. We developed that software here on Earth and tested it out in our test bed to make sure it worked right. We then sent it up to the Rover.

This new software has capabilities to allow Curiosity to navigate on her own, something we call Autonomous Navigation, or AutoNav. Up until now, Curiosity has used just basic driving, or what we call blind driving, where the Rover planners here on Earth do most of the planning for her. The AutoNav capability will really help Curiosity select safe routes and make better progress each day.

Another update was for additional on board safety checks for the ChemCam instrument. ChemCam's telescopic eye can be sensitive to the Sun. It's therefore important that we never point directly at the sun for a long period of time with the ChenCam. We've updated the on board software to  calculate where the Sun is and make sure that the ChemCam doesn't get pointed in the wrong direction.  

The plans for upcoming activities include getting calibration images from the navigation cameras at the top of Curiosity's mast. We switched to the B Side Computer before Solar Conjunction and this meant we also switched to using a different set of navigation cameras. The calibration images will help insure that the cameras are working  properly before we drive to a new location.

And we may be drilling again soon. Scientists and engineers have been hard at work looking for new targets where we could drill.  One such target is just a few meters West from the rover and could be our potential second drill site. We are planning a short drive, or bump, into this position,  so that we will be ready for our second drilling campaign.

This has been your Curiosity Rover Report. Please check back for more updates.

Originally posted to Kossacks on Mars on Wed May 15, 2013 at 05:59 PM PDT.

Also republished by SciTech and Astro Kos.

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