A very historic day on Mars, and for the mars exoploration program, today. After 16 sols on the red planet, Curiosity finally drove away from her landing site. Not far, just a few metres, not much more than a tootle about really, but that’s not the point. Since she landed more than two weeks (two weeks???? What!?!?) Curiosity has been essentially a lander with wheels. She has stayed exactly where the Skycrane left her. Yesterday she waggled her wheels a bit, which was pretty exciting, but really did little more than prove the wheels *could* waggle. But today, today images came back showing real wheel tracks in the dust, proof she had moved off, driving away from her landing site, and had begun driving across the surface of Mars…
Curiosity really is a Mars rover now! :-)
Here’s a mosaic I made of several of the frames that were sent back. I wanted to show the foothills of Mt Sharp and the rover’s wheel tracks at the same time…
But for a proper look at what happened today, I’ll direct you to a panorama created by one of UMSF’s most celebrated and accomplished imagesmiths, Damien Bouic. Just go here and click on the image to enlarge it – but set aside the next half hour, because you’re going to be busy scrolling around it, drinking in the view… :-)
The MSL team are making firm plans now, and a timetable is (kind of) emerging. There’ll now be a short pause – “intermission” the rover team call it – during which more of the rover’s systems and equipment will be checked out. They’ll give the cameras on the mastcam a good run, maybe even trying some hi resolution 3D images. And after that, Curiosity will set off for Glenelg. Along the way they’ll stop to test the rover’s ability to scoop up and then clean itself of martian dust, or “fines” to give them their proper name, and then they’ll drive to Glenelg for some very detailed scientific work there. It’s here that they might even use the rover’s drill for the first time, which will be exciting!
Here’s a 3D view of part of the tracks Curiosity made today…
Isn’t that gorgeous? Soon the wheels which made those tracks will be carrying Curiosity towards Glenelg, and then towards Mt Sharp. Speaking of which, here’s a new view of the mountain… (click to enlarge)
But back to today’s historic drive. At an NMSL press briefing, broadcast on NASA TV earlier this evening, the MSL team announced, with great fanfare and not a little emotion, that the rover’s landing site would from now on be known as “Bradbury Landing”. Now, I’m assuming that because you’re here you already have an interest in Mars, even a small one, so I’m pretty sure you’ll know who the “Bradbury” in question is, or was, because let’s face it, if you have any interest in Mars and don’t know why this landing site has been christened “Bradbury Landing” then there’s something seriously wrong! But for the few people reading this won don’t understand the tribute that’s been made, “Bradbury” is Ray Bradbury, a great, great science fiction writer whose work inspired countless numbers of people working for NASA today, including many on the MSL and MER missions. Bradbury’s book “The Martian Chronicles” made Mars into a real place, a destination, for a generation and for every generation after. Every Mars “fan” has a copy – at least one! – of “Chronicles” in their home, and reads it again and again and again. It’s a genuine work of vision and wonder, and not even the harrowing memories of a godawful 1970s TV adaption starring Rock Hudson can taint it. The only other book I can think of that treats Mars, its landscapes, its history and destiny, with such utter locve and devotion is Kim Stanley Robinson’s “Red Mars”. If you have a copy of “The Martian Chronicles” read some of it tonight to honour Ray Bradbury and his legacy. If you don’t have a copy, then tomorrow, first thing, get yourself down to your local bookshop and BUY yourself a copy, because you absolutely, absoLUTELY have to read it, now, while MSL is just starting her adventure.
So, from now on, and forever, this little corner of Mars will be known as “Bradbury Landing”, to honour a great man and his great love of, and for, the Red Planet.
Thank you Ray. See? We can stand tall when we put our minds to it.