President Barack Obama told the flight control team for NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover, “You made us all proud,” Aug. 13.
Obama telephoned the mission control room at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., to congratulate JPL Director Charles Elachi and the Mars Science Laboratory team operating the rover, which landed on Mars a week ago.
“What you’ve accomplished embodies the American spirit,” the president said. “Our expectation is that Curiosity is going to be telling us things we did not know before and laying the groundwork for an even more audacious undertaking in the future, and that’s a human mission to Mars.”
Obama said Curiosity’s landing advances his goals of improving education in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. “This is the kind of thing that inspires kids across the country,” he said. “They’re telling their moms and dads they want to be part of a Mars mission, maybe even the first person to walk on Mars.”
Elachi thanked Obama for the call and added, “Hopefully we inspire some of the millions of young people who were watching the landing.”
Obama noted, “You guys should be remarkably proud. Really what makes us best as a species is this curiosity we have – this yearning to discover and know more and push the boundaries of knowledge.”
The rover team has completed three of the four days of activities needed for transitioning Curiosity’s two main computers to a version of software suited for the rover’s work on the surface of Mars. The surface work will include driving and using tools on a robotic arm. During landing, and the first few days after landing, the spacecraft’s computers used a version of flight software loaded with landing-day capabilities that no longer are needed.
“After the software transition, we go back to preparing the rover to be fully functional for surface operations,” Curiosity mission manager Art Thompson said. “We are looking forward to a first drive in about a week.” The first short drive will be part of a few weeks of initial checkouts and observations to assess equipment on the rover and characteristics of the landing site.
Curiosity carries 10 science instruments with a total mass 15 times as large as the science payloads on NASA’s Mars rovers Spirit and Opportunity. Some of the tools are the first of their kind on Mars, such as a laser-firing instrument for checking rocks’ elemental composition from a distance. Curiosity will use a drill and scoop located at the end of its robotic arm 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.