Quiet Spring Break Ahead for Mars Rover Curiosity

The sun's position between Earth and Mars prompts a precautionary command blackout so incomplete data sent from Earth does not confuse Curiosity

By Jonathan Lloyd
|  Thursday, Apr 4, 2013  |  Updated 8:11 AM PDT
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Mars Rover Mystery Uncovered

NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

This rectangular version of a self-portrait of NASA's Mars rover Curiosity combines dozens of exposures taken by the rover's Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) during the 177th Martian day, or sol, of Curiosity's work on Mars (Feb. 3, 2013).

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The Mars Curiosity rover will take a spring break after months of exploration that must be placed on hold because of the sun's alignment between the red planet and Earth -- a planet-sun sandwich that can interfere with commands scientists send to the rover.

Engineers will place a planned moratorium on transmitting commands to the rover -- a precaution to prevent commands from being corrupted before they reach Curiosity. The command blackout will be in effect through April.

The Curiosity will remain stationary and spend most of the month studying its immediate surroundings in Gale crater.

Earth and Mars line up on opposite sides of the sun about every two years. The "planetary conjunction" means charged particles could interfere with data sent between Earth and Mars.

Incomplete or corrupted data isn't a major problem for information sent from Mars to Earth, but if a command from Earth is corrupted by the sun's charged particles, it can then confuse the rover.

The break comes after seven months of exploration and equipment tests involving the rover's complex instruments. Those tools were used to study soil samples that showed conditions on Mars were once suited for life -- the most significant discovery since Curiosity's dramatic Aug. 5 landing in Gale crater.

Click on the image at right to view Curiosity's travels.

The rover team also discovered evidence of a stream that once flowed on Mars' surface, another important revelation during the two-year mission to investigate whether areas in Gale Crater have ever offered environmental conditions favorable for microbial life.

Curiosity was built at Southern California's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of Caltech that manages the Mars Science Laboratory Project for NASA.
 


Embedded video from
NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory California Institute of Technology

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