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Curiosity’s Arm in Perfect Health, Prepares to Seek First Rock

Sep 13, 2012 08:28 AM EDT
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NASA's Curiosity rover is all set to continue its long journey after almost finishing a week-long robotic arm tests and instrument checks.

The rover which began its trip to a major site known as Glenelg in order to conduct science operations two weeks ago, stopped at a spot on Sept. 5 to perform health check-ups of its seven feet long robotic arm and also the "Swiss Army knife" which is at the end of the robotic arm before progressing to study the rock samples on Mars.

After completing its test on Thursday (Sept. 13), the rover will continue its trek to Glenelg, a significant site where three different terrains intersect. It will stop at multiple sites before reaching its destination to test the first rock sample on the Mars' surface.

According to reports from NASA, the car-sized rover will use its cameras while resuming its journey this week to find rocks that could be touched using the robotic arm for testing. Curiosity's instruments have passed the health check-ups and have been functioning well. Tests have showed that the robotic arm is moving accurately in the Red planet's gravity conditions and temperatures.

Besides the robotic arm, two main instruments - a camera called Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) which can take close up images and another tool called Alpha Particle X-Ray Spectrometer (APXS) to determine chemical composition of the rock - have passed the preparatory tests.

While MAHLI was able to produce sharp images of the objects, the APXS tool was found to successfully identify elements and provide precise data when they were used on a solid target.

"The spectrum peaks are so narrow, we're getting excellent resolution, just as good as we saw in tests on Earth under ideal conditions," APXS principal investigator Ralf Gellert of the University of Guelph, in Ontario, Canada, said in  a statement from NASA.

"The good news is that we can now make high-resolution measurements even at high noon to support quick decisions about whether a sample is worthwhile for further investigations," he said.

Moreover, the inlet cover on another instrument known as chemistry and mineralogy (CheMin) is also operating well, including the instrument below it which will analyze the rock samples that will be collected.

Curiosity, which landed on the Martian soil on Aug. 5, is on a two-year mission to find out if Mars could possibly support microbial life. 

The rover's ultimate final journey will be to Mount Sharp, which has different composition of sand that can be identified based on its color. 

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