Rock star rocks and robot arms…

Well, things are really hotting up on Mars – at least, for one little rock they are. The Rock Formerly Known As N165 sat there on Mars, in absolute obscurity, for the past few million years at least, but that peaceful existence changed when the Mars Science Laboratory fell out of the sky and landed right in front of it on Aug 6th. Over the weekend the media spotlight turned on N165 after it was selected to be the first target for the rover’s laser, and by the time the ChemCam laser was actually fired our little basalt buddy was being followed by thousands of people on Twitter, as it gave a running account of what was going on…

If you missed it, the whole ‘chat’ can be read in one go here…

http://storify.com/N165Mars/encounter-with-marscuriosity

In the aftermath of the ChemCam firing there was actually a lot of sympathy for the rock – yes, you read that correctly! :-) – but all was well in the end, because the rock was only singed, a little, in one tiny spot…

… and for its contribution to science and planetary exploration was given a brilliant name – “Coronation”, which I couldn’t help honouring with a special picture…

Yeah, I know it’s silly, and I know some people haven’t exactly been keen on this episode, they’ve been quite sniffy about it. But come on, it’s just a bit of fun! As for the official reaction to this story, well, I don’t know what the MSL team thought of the Tweets (and I have no idea who wrote them) but I hope they’re okay with it because it was a stroke of Outreach genius, I think; it engaged a lot of people with the mission and its goals. Thanks to those Tweets – which have been picked up and reproduced on countless websites now, some very high profile – many more people now know there’s a rover on Mars, zapping rocks, with a laser, in the name of science. That’s just fantastic!

I hope it doesn’t happen for every rock that’s chosen for a zappin’ with the ChemCam, that would get a bit tedious and the novelty would wear off really quickly, but this time it was a lot of fun, and yet another great illustration of how social media can be used to make people feel involved with a mission like this. Well done to everyone involved! :-)

In other news, the rover’s robot arm has been unstowed for the first time, and its muscles flexed, as part of the ongoing check-ot of the rover’s systems. Here’s an official mosaic, made of thumbnail images (hence the low resolution)…

There are now higher resolution images too, showing the instrument package at the end of the robot arm, in lovely detail…

I wonder what it feels like to be one of the scientists and engineers who worked on those instruments, for years and years, to finally see them there, on Mars, with rocks beneath them and Mt Sharp behind them? That must be an incredible feeling.

Finally for this post, I’d like to share with you an absolutely beautiful pic created by one of unmannedspaceflight.com’s most accomplished imagesmiths, and a great friend of mine, AstroO. He’s very cleverly created a fisheye self portrait of Criosity standing proudly on the surface of Mars which¬† really think gives the rover character…

So, things are really starting to move in Gale. The laser has been used, and worked fine; the robot arm has been put through its first movements, and works fine. Soon the rover will move its wheels for the first time, and soon after that will start rolling across the crater floor, heading for its first science target.

Buckle up! :-)

One thought on “Rock star rocks and robot arms…

  1. I’m amazed how heavy that arm is. I think I remember reading the mass was 70kg + another 30kg for the tools on the end. So around a 3rd of that weight on Mars. I skim read a quite interesting paper by the drill designers yesterday when I was wondering why it was so big:

    http://www.esmats.eu/amspapers/pastpapers/pdfs/2010/okon.pdf

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