Astrogeology Science Center

Sol 47 update on Curiosity from USGS Scientist Ken Herkenhoff: Out of Focus!

23 September 2012

"Mars time" is getting closer to PDT, with first shift starting around 6 AM today. Lots of good news and applause today: The Alpha Particle X-ray Spectrometer (APXS) received its first data from a Mars rock, the first MAHLI close-up images of the same rock, and the first mass spectrometer measurement of the Martian atmosphere from SAM. But not all of the news was good...

I was SOWG Chair for Sol 47 planning, and was expecting an "easy" day for the science team because the long-anticipated arm activities had been planned well in advance and there would be no time in the plan for "opportunistic science." Well, that all changed quickly when we received the Sol 46 data that showed the ChemCam Remote Microscopic Imager (RMI) images all completely out of focus. The automatic focusing system had clearly failed, and successful focusing was required before the ChemCam laser could be fired at the same target today. So we had to scramble to recover from this anomaly and acquire ChemCam diagnostic data that would allow the engineering team to determine what had gone wrong. We were hoping to use ChemCam to measure the chemistry of the same spot on the rock "Jake Matijevic" that would be measured by the APXS before driving away on Sol 48, but it quickly became clear that this would not be possible. Instead, we decided to move the APXS spot to the place on the rock where ChemCam had previously acquired less extensive data. While not what we originally had in mind, it will allow us to proceed toward Glenelg as planned.