Curiosity Mars rover installing smarts for driving

Aug 11, 2012
This mosaic image shows part of the left side of NASA's Curiosity rover and two blast marks from the descent stage's rocket engines. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

(Phys.org) -- NASA's Mars rover Curiosity will spend its first weekend on Mars transitioning to software better suited for tasks ahead, such as driving and using its strong robotic arm.

The rover's "brain transplant," which will occur during a series of steps Aug. 10 through Aug. 13, will install a new version of software on both of the rover's redundant main computers. This software for operations was uploaded to the rover's memory during the Mars Science Laboratory spacecraft's flight from Earth.

"We designed the mission from the start to be able to upgrade the software as needed for different phases of the mission," said Ben Cichy of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., chief software engineer for the Mars Science Laboratory mission. "The version Curiosity currently is using was really focused on landing the vehicle. It includes many capabilities we just don't need any more. It gives us basic capabilities for operating the rover on the surface, but we have planned all along to switch over after landing to a version of flight software that is really optimized for surface operations."

A key capability in the new version is to check for obstacles. This allows for longer drives by giving the rover more autonomy to identify and avoid potential hazards and drive along a safe path the rover identifies for itself. Other new capabilities facilitate use of the tools at the end of the rover's robotic arm.

While Curiosity is completing the transition, the mission's science team is continuing to analyze images the rover has taken of its surroundings inside Gale Crater. Researchers are discussing which features in the scene to investigate after a few weeks of initial checkouts and observations to assess equipment on the rover and characteristics of the landing site.

The Mars spacecraft delivered Curiosity to its target area on Mars at 10:31:45 p.m. PDT on Aug. 5 (1:31:45 a.m. EDT on Aug. 6), which includes the 13.8 minutes needed for confirmation of the touchdown to be radioed to Earth at the speed of light.

Curiosity carries 10 science instruments with a total mass 15 times as large as the science payloads on 's Spirit and Opportunity. Some of the tools, such as a laser-firing instrument for checking rocks' elemental composition from a distance, are the first of their kind on . Curiosity will use a drill and scoop, which are located at the end of its , to gather soil and powdered samples of rock interiors, then sieve and parcel out these samples into the rover's analytical laboratory instruments.

To handle this science toolkit, Curiosity is twice as long and five times as heavy as Spirit or Opportunity. The Gale Crater landing site at 4.59 degrees south, 137.44 degrees east, places the rover within driving distance of layers of the crater's interior mountain. Observations from orbit have identified clay and sulfate minerals in the lower layers, indicating a wet history.

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User comments : 23

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Mayday
2.8 / 5 (14) Aug 11, 2012
I find it curious that Curiosity does not have the usual "contingency" procedures for such an extreme, high-risk mission. I would have expected them to get about taking several hi-res close-ups of the surface and to relatively quickly run a series of samples through analysis. With such a complex rover sitting in such a hostile environment, there are still glitches that can bite. So far the waters have been smooth, but I hope they're not resting on their laurels. Curious, don't you think?
Mayday
2.7 / 5 (12) Aug 11, 2012
For me, the 2 most fascinating things about the mission so far have been 1) that they didn't anticipate that the crash of the sky-crane would produce a visible dust cloud, and 2) that they apparently did not anticipate the rover's christening shower of rocks and dust. I'm seeing the Spock meme: "fascinating." Right?
210
2.5 / 5 (4) Aug 11, 2012
@ Mayday here:
"...Since the feat, Curiosity has returned a flood of pictures including a 360-degree color view and a low-resolution video featuring the last minutes of its descent. Over the weekend, it will get a software update, a process that will take four days. During the hiatus, stored data will continue to be downloaded.
Read more at: http://phys.org/n...tml#jCp"
Gee Mayday...looks like you got second-guessed before your first guess! I don't know, but this could be why you were quickly passed over for running this project?!

word-to-ya-muthas
Kafpauzo
5 / 5 (4) Aug 11, 2012
Mayday, as 210 points out, they did take lots of pictures. What's more, all those pictures are of a nicely high resolution.

But they have limited bandwidth, so downloading all those pictures to Earth takes quite some time. In the meantime, they're downloading thumbnail versions. Thus, Curiosity is taking and storing nicely high-quality pictures, but sending thumbnail versions. The stored high-res versions will arrive over time as bandwidth permits.

The way they plan Curiosity's first time on Mars is that the first period is for the Engineering teams, who very carefully get the various parts of Curiosity started, calibrated and running. They take great care, never rushing, to make sure everything will work fine. Once Curiosity is ready, Engineering hands over the keys to the Science teams.

In the meantime, the Science teams do get interesting tidbits, just not the whole shebang.

This is considered the safest and most reliable way to make sure they get the most out of the hardware.
Kafpauzo
3 / 5 (2) Aug 11, 2012
Mayday, they did anticipate the dust cloud, that's why they programmed the rear hazcams to take those pictures at that exact moment.

But like all good scientists they are cautious, and don't declare a find until they have analyzed the situation carefully. Getting the dust cloud was a long shot. The direction and timing would have to be exactly right. The chances were on the slim side. In such a situation, it makes sense to be cautious before declaring success.

The sky-crane team did anticipate the pebbles. Some other teams were surprised by them. I guess you can't have all the teams knowing all the small details.
Kafpauzo
5 / 5 (3) Aug 11, 2012
Read more at: http://phys.org/n...tml#jCp"


Your link is broken. You can never use the compressed link with "..." that phys.org creates with the apparent purpose of annoying us.
Mayday
3.4 / 5 (9) Aug 11, 2012
You're right, I would have done it differently. Shortly after landing(within 24 hrs), I would have run a pre-loaded program to get extreme close-ups and microscopy of the soil, then scooped a sample and run an analysis. No fuss, no muss. And on the safe side of risk in the name of science. Do you recall how our first rover scooted right over and did its thing on the first rock in sight? Remember the continency plastic bag of lunar soil our guys grabbed at the bottom of the ladder? I do. To each his own. I love Curiosity and hope like hell that she stays healthy -- for years to come.
Mayday
4.1 / 5 (9) Aug 11, 2012
And a thank you to everyone for the education. I do appreciate the info. :-)
Kafpauzo
3.7 / 5 (3) Aug 11, 2012
The environment is not hostile to Curiosity. On the contrary, it's benign for this rover.

Keep in mind that the environment was very well known when the rover was built. They designed it to be carefully and precisely adapted to this environment.

There's no reason to think that the environment will suddenly change so dramatically and become so hostile that it incapacitates the rover. How would that happen? It is far, _far_ more likely that some operator error will incapacitate it.

As I tried to explain, they have already taken lots and lots of close-ups. Just look at the 360-degree panorama http://phys.org/n...iew.html . Every little tile in that panorama is a HD image! That's really close-up!

However, the microscope close-ups will have to wait. The arm isn't ready yet. Getting it ready without risking operator errors will take a while.

And a thank you to everyone for the education. I do appreciate the info. :-)


Glad to help! :-)
antialias_physorg
5 / 5 (1) Aug 11, 2012
, I would have run a pre-loaded program to get extreme close-ups and microscopy of the soil, then scooped a sample and run an analysis. No fuss, no muss.

When you have a billion dollar lab - that you cannot get to to make repairs - you don't go around recklessly doing everything in a few minutes.

There's no rush. Do everything slow and steady with plenty of evaluation and feedback from Earth every step along the way. Automatics are for emergencies only (and when you don't have the time for the roundtrip of signals to Earth and back like during the landing procedure)
obama_socks
2.1 / 5 (15) Aug 11, 2012
"Mayday, they did anticipate the dust cloud, that's why they programmed the rear hazcams to take those pictures at that exact moment."

It was just by sheer luck that the camera was pointed in the right direction to capture the dust cloud. That was NOT programmed to happen at that very moment. We did not anticipate it
TheGhostofOtto1923
3.6 / 5 (17) Aug 11, 2012
2) that they apparently did not anticipate the rover's christening shower of rocks and dust. I'm seeing the Spock meme: "fascinating." Right?
They did - there is a pic of the deck and a description of their expectations on the website.
It was just by sheer luck that the camera was pointed in the right direction to capture the dust cloud. That was NOT programmed to happen at that very moment. We did not anticipate it
'We' - I almost forgot - pirouette/Ritchieguy/russkiye/pussy/Obie/Hannibal the fake farmer/Russian/nurse/cannibal is now a fake NASA scientist. Ahaahahaha! Reading your posts is like watching a mangy dog chew it's tail off.

-You apparently do not know that Curiosity had many cameras pointing in many directions when 2 cameras captured at least 2 plume images. Why did you not know this Herr Dr Werner Von Blotto? Heeheehee.
obama_socks
2.1 / 5 (14) Aug 11, 2012
Wrong again, OttoBlotto..that one low definition picture was not staged. It was a fluke. Heeheehee
If it had been preprogrammed, then there would not have been a story of something mysterious going on.
obama_socks
1.7 / 5 (17) Aug 11, 2012
"I almost forgot - pirouette/Ritchieguy/russkiye/pussy/Obie/Hannibal" --Crazy Otto

So you're still looking for these people, eh BlottoOtto? More likely they've either gone elsewhere to another science website to comment or they've changed their names to get rid of you.
Since I will be deleting this name after the elections and going back to my primary name like I said I would, you will have to search for your friends somewhere else. Maybe antialias is your pirouette/Ritchieguy/russkiye/pussy/Obie/Hannibal, eh?
Kafpauzo
2.3 / 5 (3) Aug 12, 2012
It was just by sheer luck that the camera was pointed in the right direction to capture the dust cloud.


Not at all.

Curiosity has 17 different cameras. Among these, there are four fixed-direction fish-eye hazcams (hazard cameras) pointing straight forward (and down), and four pointing straight backward (and down).

When the sky crane left the rover, it could only go in either of two directions, straight forward or straight backward. It was programmed to choose whichever of these two directions happened to be most toward the north.

This restriction was due to sky-crane technicalities. But it also meant that there was a fairly good probability that it might be visible to either set of hazcams. However, the crane had only very rudimentary steering, so wind or random chance might make it veer a bit to either side. There was no certainty, just a likelihood.

The rudimentary steering also meant that the time of the crash was uncertain. They pre-programmed a likely moment of time.
Kafpauzo
3 / 5 (2) Aug 12, 2012
If it had been preprogrammed, then there would not have been a story of something mysterious going on.


The Internet loves a mystery! As long as it's undecided, of course it will be discussed as a mystery!

During the very first televised press conference after the landing, the Curiosity scientists discussed very briefly the possibility that this cloud might be the sky-crane crash. They mentioned that this was quite uncertain, and that they'd have to analyze and discuss before expressing any opinion.

If I remember things correctly, the widespread discussions about the mystery came after that press conference.
Neurons_At_Work
5 / 5 (4) Aug 12, 2012
I've been reading articles and following developments on the NASA site since watching the EDL events live. There was NO plan to capture an image of the decent stage crashing. The orientation of the rover was a totally random event; the distance the decent stage would cover before crashing into the surface was guessed to be 500 to 2000 meters or more, and the direction of that last flight was unknown. The field of view of the hazard avoidance cameras are not 180 degrees each, and the fact that the decent stage threw up a substantial dust cloud at the exact time those first pictures were clicked was not even guessed at. All of these facts have been discussed in detail during the several JPL mission status briefings that have occurred since touchdown. It was total happenstance, and a one-in-a-million shot--this is from the mission team directly. The ONLY pic that was preplanned--and even it was a long shot--was the MRO photograph of the open chute during decent. Check before down-voting?
obama_socks
1.7 / 5 (17) Aug 12, 2012
Yes, the cameras are in fixed positions. But nevertheless, we were surprised to see what later turned out to be a cloud of dust from the impact. We had no way of telling immediately what it was, although some suggested that it might be the sky-crane but, being that it was the first mission into Gale Crater, there was a lot of speculation going round. That was a good day for all. Now comes the really serious part and the whole purpose of the mission.

This name is solely for commenting on religion and politics and my primary name is strictly for science. I am, therefore, in the wrong thread and topic while on this name. To put it simply, I was tempted. I will try to stay within my guidelines until the elections are over and I delete this name permanently. I haven't slept very much since the approach to the planet and I'm in need of a full 6 - 8 hours of good sleep. I'm back on duty in a couple of hours.
Kafpauzo
3 / 5 (2) Aug 12, 2012
There was NO plan to capture an image of the decent stage crashing.


The fact that they did plan a likely time for catching the cloud, but that still it was a long shot, is mentioned here:

http://www.youtub...ApRIjdTI

0:24:10 -- "We were actually extremely lucky, but it was sort of a planned event."

0:24:37 -- "Now this photo was taken about 40 seconds after touchdown. The predicted time of flight of the descent stage is about 20 seconds."

0:25:28 -- "We actually selected [...] the timing of the hazcam pictures, both front and rear, were timed so that we would possibly catch any cloud like this."

Immediately after that last quote, there's something that seems to contradict what I said: "And the fact that the descent stage flew directly aft of the rover, it's an amazing coincidence that we were able to catch this impact."

But the sky-crane team knows that the direction of flight was not such a surprising coincidence. See my next comment.
Kafpauzo
3 / 5 (2) Aug 12, 2012
The orientation of the rover was a totally random event;


Yes, the rover could come down turned in any direction. But in whatever direction it was turned, the sky crane could only fly away either straight forward of the rover, or straight aft of the rover. In other words, if the rover was turned, say, 10 degrees, the sky crane could only fly away either at 10 degrees or at 190 degrees:

http://www.youtub...AA_eMivo

See both the talk and the gestures from 1:06:33 to 1:07:23, and especially:

1:07:14 -- "So this means that we have only two choices, either go that way or that way."

It was a long shot. They were lucky. Planned lucky. Talented lucky.

As they say, it's funny how that works: The more you plan and practice, the luckier you get!
The Singularity
3 / 5 (4) Aug 12, 2012
"Curiosity Mars rover installing smarts for driving" - Roughly translated means "We need a break, here's some B.S."
Kafpauzo
1 / 5 (2) Aug 12, 2012
"Curiosity Mars rover installing smarts for driving" - Roughly translated means "We need a break, here's some B.S."


What you said there, roughly translated, means "All I can offer the world is contempt and BS."

Or do you really feel that what you said is constructive and connected to reality?

Can you show us that you have a sufficient knowledge about the rover to argue that your guess is in any way connected to reality?
TheGhostofOtto1923
3.5 / 5 (16) Aug 12, 2012
that one low definition picture was not staged. It was a fluke.
Staged. So in the opinion of a NASA scientist/janitor/crank caller, how could such a thing have been 'staged'? Glassheaded Martian stagehands?
Yes, the cameras are in fixed positions. But nevertheless, we were surprised to see what later turned out to be a cloud of dust from the impact. We had no way of telling immediately what it was
Says p/r/r/p/o the sicko who thinks she can pretend to be a scientist HERE and get away with it. Asstounding.
This name is solely for commenting on religion and politics and my primary name is strictly for science.
And why would any honest scientist need more than one username? For keeping all their ignorant comments separate? But all of your comments seem ignorant no matter which sockpuppet you use. You are immediately identifiable. They are ALL obviously you.
I am, therefore, in the wrong thread
No you are in the wrong site. The Sickfuck.org chatroom is ---> thataway

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