Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Curiosity Leaves Its First Tracks on Mars

NASA's Mars rover Curiosity has begun driving from its landing site, which scientists have named for the late author Ray Bradbury.

Making its first movement on the Martian surface, Curiosity's drive combined forward, turn and reverse segments. This placed the rover roughly 20 feet (6 meters) from the spot where it landed 16 days ago.

Team members celebrate in the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) Curiosity Surface Mission Support Area (SMSA) when images are received confirming the rover's first drive on Mars on Aug. 22, 2012. 

So, Curiosity has left its first tracks on Mars.

Only someone who has experimented with robotics can understand why a bunch of grown men would be so excited about some tracks... Although, they are tracks on another planet - made by a robot that traveled through space for almost nine months, survived a very complex landing and has worked flawlessly so far.

As you can tell, I am excited too...

Monday, August 20, 2012

New Favicon!

You might have noticed my new favicon at your browser tab. A larger copy is shown here. I designed the RUS logo for my blog Robotics Under the Stole. It is also a little tip of the hat to R.U.R.

R.U.R. is a 1920 science fiction play in the Czech language by Karel Čapek. R.U.R. stands for Rossum's Universal Robots, an English phrase used as the subtitle in the Czech original. The play premiered in 1921 and introduced the word "robot" to the English language and to science fiction as a whole.

Just so you'll know...

First Laser-Zapped Rock on Mars

This composite image, with magnified insets, depicts the first laser test by the Chemistry and Camera, or ChemCam, instrument aboard NASA's Curiosity Mars rover. The composite incorporates a Navigation Camera image taken prior to the test, with insets taken by the camera in ChemCam. The circular insert highlights the rock before the laser test. The square inset is further magnified and processed to show the difference between images taken before and after the laser interrogation of the rock.

The test took place on Aug. 19, 2012. In the composite, the fist-sized rock, called "Coronation," is highlighted. Coronation is the first rock on any extraterrestrial planet to be investigated with such a laser test.

ChemCam hit Coronation with 30 pulses of its laser during a 10-second period. Each pulse delivered more than a million watts of power for about five one-billionths of a second. The energy from the laser excited atoms in the rock into an ionized, glowing plasma. ChemCam also caught the light from that spark with a telescope and analyzed it with three spectrometers for information about what elements are in the target.

Text and Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/LANL/CNES/IRAP

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Curiosity's Secret Message...

If you look carefully at Curiosity’s wheels, you might notice that along with treads, there are square and rectangular holes. According to JPL Rover Mechanical Engineering Team Manager Richard Rainen, these holes are actually odometer markers. Rainen said,“There are asymmetric patterns, actually holes, inside the wheels of the rover that will leave an imprint on the surface of Mars. We’re going to be looking at these imprints and verifying that it has traversed the distance it expects to traverse. If it looks like it’s not traversing, even though the wheels are going, that is an indication that the vehicle is getting stuck and it will stop and call back home.”

But back in 2007, when the Curiosity team at JPL was putting together the rover, its wheel cleats had a raised pattern with the letters “JPL,” leaving a little stamp of the rover’s birthplace everywhere it rolled. But the finished Curiosity rover wound up with a different pattern with holes and  the engineers got to make the markers in any shape they wanted. So what pattern did JPL choose to put on Curiosity’s wheels? The holes are in a pattern of short squares and longer rectangles - almost like dots and dashes. Morse code… And what does it spell out in Morse code? JPL!
J . - - - 
P . - - . 
L . - . .
The wheels of Curiosity will soon begin to leave there secret message on the surface of Mars. Software is being uploaded now that will allow the rover to begin moving about Gale Crater.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Curiosity's Self Portrait

NASA's Curiosity rover took this self portrait of itself by using its Navigation cameras, located on the now-upright mast. The camera snapped pictures 360-degrees around the rover, while pointing down at the rover deck, up and straight ahead. 

Curiosity's New Home

These are the first two full-resolution images of the Martian surface from the Navigation cameras on NASA's Curiosity rover, which are located on the rover's "head" or mast. The rim of Gale Crater can be seen in the distance beyond the pebbly ground. 

The topography of the rim is very mountainous due to erosion. The ground seen in the middle shows low-relief scarps and plains. The foreground shows two distinct zones of excavation likely carved out by blasts from the rover's descent stage thrusters.

Photo and text from here -

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Scene of a Martian Landing

The four main pieces of hardware that arrived on Mars with NASA's Curiosity rover were spotted by NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO). The High-Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera captured this image about 24 hours after landing. The large, reduced-scale image points out the strewn hardware: the heat shield was the first piece to hit the ground, followed by the back shell attached to the parachute, then the rover itself touched down, and finally, after cables were cut, the sky crane flew away to the northwest and crashed. Relatively dark areas in all four spots are from disturbances of the bright dust on Mars, revealing the darker material below the surface dust.

Around the rover, this disturbance was from the sky crane thrusters, and forms a bilaterally symmetrical pattern. The darkened radial jets from the sky crane are downrange from the point of oblique impact, much like the oblique impacts of asteroids. In fact, they make an arrow pointing to Curiosity.

The Curiosity rover is approximately 4,900 feet (1,500 meters) away from the heat shield; about 2,020 feet (615 meters) away from the parachute and back shell; and approximately 2,100 feet (650 meters) away from the discoloration consistent with the impact of the sky crane.

Text and Photo from

First Color Image from Mars by Curiosity

This view of the landscape to the north of NASA's Mars rover Curiosity taken by the Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) on the afternoon of the first day after landing. (The team calls this day Sol 1, which is the first Martian day of operations; Sol 1 began on Aug. 6, 2012.)

In the distance, the image shows the north wall and rim of Gale Crater. The image is murky because the MAHLI’s removable dust cover is apparently coated with dust blown onto the camera during the rover’s terminal descent. Images taken without the dust cover in place are expected during checkout of the robotic arm in coming weeks.

Mars Robot Size Comparison

Take a look at this size comparison of the robots sent to Mars...It explains why Spirit, Opportunity and Sojourner could use the bouncing balloon (airbag) landing and Curiosity used the sky-crane landing. Curiosity's EDL (Entry, Descent and Landing) also allowed for much greater accuracy in hitting a particular landing site.

Mars Science Laboratory (Curiosity) mockup (right) compared with the Mars Exploration Rover (Spirit/Opportunity) (left) and Sojourner Rover (center) by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
Wheel size comparison: Sojourner, Mars Exploration Rover (Spirit/Opportunity), Mars Science Laboratory (Curiosity).

Monday, August 6, 2012


Why is the Mars Curiosity Rover so interesting to me? Because it is the most sophisticated robotic planetary explorer ever built or conceived. Everything about it is hard to do. It also bears a name that means so much to me.

See the quote from Walt Disney to the right (and below)...It is kind of the theme of my blog and something that I think captures the whole idea of why we should try new things and always be learning...It was featured in Disney's animated film Meet the Robinsons.

"We keep moving forward, opening new doors, and doing new things, because we're curious and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths." - Walt Disney

A Toast to JPL Curiosity Mission Control

JPL mission controllers broke out jars of peanuts shortly before Curiosity's landing. It’s a tradition before critical mission events that started with the first successful Ranger mission to the moon in the 1960s. A JPL staffer was eating peanuts at the time, so the staff figured the peanuts brought good luck! 
Looks like they worked again... Photo Credit: NASA-TV

Curiosity Has Landed - JPL Video

This is a combination of video and simulation pieced together to show the moment that Curiosity landed on Mars.

A Few More Photos

NASA's Curiosity rover and its parachute were spotted by NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter as Curiosity descended to the surface. Amazing!

Curiosity was steered to this particular landing area during Entry Descent and Landing (EDL).

First Photos

The team a JPL celebrate just after Curiosity's landing.

Moments later, the first photos arrive...
Curiosity takes a photo of its own shadow.

Complete information is here -

Curiosity Lands on Mars!

Curiosity is now safely on Mars! The first thumbnail images have just come in. Now the real adventure begins... Just the lannding is a great achievement though.

I watched it all live on NASA TV.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

More Curiosity Coolness...

Another amazing NASA animation of Curiosity in action.

See more here - This is also where the live feed will begin on Sunday, August 5, 2012 at 10:31 p.m. PDT - that is Monday, August 6, 2012 at 12:31 a.m. CDT, my time zone. I'll be watching! Will you?

Seven Minutes of Terror Coming Soon

Curiosity touches down soon... I am so excited about this!

I plan to watch live on Sunday night - actually Monday morning...

People often say NASA spends too much and does things that are crazy and too complicated. But, they still do amazing things...

Think how much Spirit and Opportunity exceeded expectations. The fact that there are robots made on earth rolling around on another planet blows my mind! I would love to be a tiny part of such a project.

With robotics, I still think that it is possible - there is so much left to accomplish - who knows who might contribute something important - It is a reminder to me an other amateurs to get to work!