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I put a transcript out in the tall grass of this video, NASA's latest Curiosity Rover Update. I also have a few more thoughts out there on the mission for anyone who wants to talk about it some more.

This video is an excellent reminder that the Curiosity mission is just now getting underway. Everything we have seen so far was done less for the sake of the science, but more to test and prepare all systems and instruments for the long term mission ahead. From launch, to alighting at Bradbury Landing, to the observation of an apparent prehistoric river bed, to the "Rocknest Campaign", Curiosity has taken us on a roller coaster ride of geeking out on highs and lows.

It looks like the science results so far come from testing, and establishing baselines for the systems. The science so far is incidental to this testing process. It has has been a shakedown cruise, during which the instruments have been carefully cleaned and prepared for use, and in which the materials handing tools have now all been tested, except the impact drill. However, the Rocknest material sampled by the instruments was chosen more for the quality of its grit than it's great potential to provide insight into the possibility of ancient Martian life. Here is how NASA Deputy Project Scientist Ashwin Vasavada described the nature of the Curiosity mission:  

the big questions in science, whether Copernicus finding that the Earth goes around the Sun, or Darwin, showing that natural selection drives biological evolution, were answers only after many measurements were taken, compared against one another and hypotheses were proposed and tested against the data. Only then can the big picture emerge and the theory get accepted.
It will be no different for Curiosity and its mission to understand the habitability of ancient Mars at Gale Crater.
That's pretty big talk, for a scientist. Certainly the work of Copernicus and Darwin were "for the history books". The work NASA scientists are doing on Mars today may yet make discoveries of such timeless stature.

Here is the full transcript of NASA's latest Curiosity Rover Update.  All errors attributed to LeftOfYou.

Hi.

I am Ashwin Vasavada, Deputy Project Scientist, Mars Science Laboratory, and this is you  Curiosity Rover Update.

It's been a momentous week for Curiosity. We've wrapped up our scientific study of Rocknest, which also means that we've completed the check-out and first scientific use of all of our instruments on the rover, and it is truly working great.

We began the Rocknest Campaign by searching for a suitable drift of sandy soil using our Mastcam color cameras. We used our ChemCam Laser and our APXS chemical sensor to do an initial chemical analysis of the soil determining whether it was similar to soils that we understand from Spirit and Opportunity and therefore safe for scooping and sending to our laboratories. We used MAHLI, our hand lens imager, to take close-up views of the soil to look at different particle sizes, shapes and colors and how they change with depth.

We then scooped up the soil and analyzed it with our X-ray diffraction instrument, that can identify minerals in soil based on their unique crystal structure. But it turned out that a good amount of the material in the soil was not crystalline. But that's no problem for our other laboratory, SAM. SAM heated up the soil in an oven and measured various gases released as the soil components broke down, such as water, carbon dioxide, oxygen and sulphur.

Not surprisingly, the results show a composition that is typical of Mars soils studied at other sites, with, perhaps, some very simple carbon containing molecules and perchlorate salts. We haven't yet seen any complex organic molecules, but sand isn't the best place to look.

Finally, it's worth remembering that the big questions in science, whether Copernicus finding that the Earth goes around the Sun, or Darwin, showing that natural selection drives biological evolution, were answers only after many measurements were taken, compared against one another and hypotheses were proposed and tested against the data. Only then can the big picture emerge and the theory get accepted.
It will be no different for Curiosity and its mission to understand the habitability of ancient Mars at Gale Crater. There won't be any single measurement or instrument that will answer everything. We are in it for the long haul.

But now we know we have a fantastic rover, a great set of tools, and a fully functional scientific payload. So let's get on exploring.  

This has been your Curiosity Rover Report.

For all of my Mars diaries and all things Mars on Daily Kos go to Kossacks on Mars

Originally posted to LeftOfYou on Mon Dec 10, 2012 at 07:29 PM PST.

Also republished by Astro Kos and SciTech.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Very important explanation by NASA. n/t (7+ / 0-)

    "It ain't what you don't know that gets you into trouble. It's the thing you know for sure that just ain't so." Mark Twain

    by Expat Okie on Mon Dec 10, 2012 at 07:36:04 PM PST

  •  Everytime I read these NASA releases I find myself (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    exterris, tekno2600

    trying to read between the lines.  I get it that they looked for material that matches controls already established by Spirit and Opportunity for calibration and instrument verification.  Two points stood out but perhaps you have covered this elsewhere:

    1)

    determining whether it was similar to soils that we understand from Spirit and Opportunity and therefore safe for scooping and sending to our laboratories.
    They are cautious about the soil texture for the sake of the instruments, so what is unsafe for scooping and what impact will this limitation have on the pursuit of answers to big questions,

    and

    2)

    But it turned out that a good amount of the material in the soil was not crystalline.
    The "sandy" test soil composition unexpectedly included significant non-crystalline content yet they had used the Mastcam color cameras, the ChemCam Laser and APXS chemical sensor to search for the correct sand drift.  What can be learned from the surprise?

    I'm not trying to be critical, just curious.

    "Take a straight and stronger course to the corner of your life." - Yes

    by teknohed on Mon Dec 10, 2012 at 08:55:39 PM PST

  •  We need a manned mission to mars. (0+ / 0-)

    It would light the fire of imagination in a new generation of world citizens and would allow us much greater exploration possibilities.  These rovers are excellent, but we should also be sending them to the moons of Saturn and Jupiter, where human visits are not an option yet.

    If the costs are considered too high, it can be done in cooperation with the European Space Agency, imo.

    Space exploration is one area where I feel that the Obama Administration could be doing a better job.

    Tipped and recced.

    "A candle loses nothing by lighting another candle" - Mohammed Nabbous, R.I.P.

    by Lawrence on Tue Dec 11, 2012 at 06:28:06 AM PST

    •  It would be interesting to have a discussion about (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Lawrence, Rashaverak

      the manned vs. unmanned mission proposals for Mars. I'd say that these robots we've been sending are the absolutely essential precusors for future missions and probably will find one way or the other if life did (or still does) exist there. They will probably do it at 1/10th to 1/100th of the cost of a manned mission. Also, if they do detect even simple microbial life (which I personally think they will), we may need to carefully consider whether a rush to put human boots on Mars is a good idea. For human missions, it would probably be impossible to avoid contaminating Mars with Earth bacteria the way we can with robots. They can be run through sterilization processes that you couldn't do with humans and all their equipment. So, we might end up killing off valuable indigineous life on Mars or possibly being exposed to things on Mars that could be dangerous to us. I think that is why it is more essential than ever to conduct the initial science with our robots to see what Mars hold.

      I'm not saying I wouldn't be excited to go, of course. It's just that we have to be careful, and just because we could rush there doesn't mean we should.

      Just doing my part to piss off right wing nuts, one smart ass comment at a time.

      by tekno2600 on Tue Dec 11, 2012 at 11:13:10 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  An interesting point. (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        tekno2600

        Nonetheless, I think that it would be good to use a Mars mission to forge some kind of international effort for international exploration of the solar system.  And even if we went into firm planning mode, I doubt we'd see humans on Mars before 2030.  And it would probably be good to start sending cargo ahead of human astronauts, so we would have to get on it a.s.a.p.

        If robots haven't found life on Mars in the next 20 years, then it'll be time to have humans give it a go.  

        I'd like to see a Mars mission in my lifetime, that much is sure.

        "A candle loses nothing by lighting another candle" - Mohammed Nabbous, R.I.P.

        by Lawrence on Tue Dec 11, 2012 at 04:33:05 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  I think these are all good points. I do expect to (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Lawrence

          see Americans on Mars by around 2030. I don't expect to see some of the more sensationalized pipe dreams, like MarsOne and other such private Martian Colony ideas that have recently been floated, to actually pan out.

          It would be great to have an international partnership help with a Mars mission. However, to be honest, the ESA's budget is tiny compared to NASA (perhaps 1/10th), so I doubt we'd get much help from them. I can imagine trying to work with the Russians, though relations have deteriorated. We might have had a better chance working with the old Soviet government than the gangsters who currently run Russia. Perhaps we could also head off a new space race with China by reaching out to them. But, I'm not sure if there's any way to tell how likely that would be.

          Just doing my part to piss off right wing nuts, one smart ass comment at a time.

          by tekno2600 on Tue Dec 11, 2012 at 05:59:59 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

  •  I like science, and if there are gerbils (0+ / 0-)

    on Mars then maybe there is an argument to not do it...

    but,

    the only thing Mars is good for is being bombarded with ice asteroids until it has an atmosphere and ground water.

    I think it needs a few to actually hit hard, and rise the temperature of the atmosphere, but most of the thousands of them can burn off with low angle entries.

    This means the 'entrepreneur' who wants people to go now, with no route home, should wait until after the impacts. (not in this, their lifetime)

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