[ Update: A brief video report from NASA JPL on Mars exploration news:
The peak of Mount Sharp is quite a distance to the south, far beyond the bottom of the photograph. Even in these proposed travels the rover will remain in the mountain’s lowest foothills, though the terrain will be getting considerably more dramatic.
And here is a NASA JPL update on what Curiosity has been doing recently: Sol 2264: Science and Good Times at Rock Hall – Curiosity Mission Updates – Dec.18.2018
We are still very excited and happy that the final drill hole, “Rock Hall,” on Vera Rubin Ridge was successful over the weekend. Now we get to analyze the drilled sample with rover instruments. We are planning one sol today, and the big event will be delivering some of the Rock Hall sample to the CheMin instrument.
The InSight Lander continues to prepare its equipment for examining the interior of the Red Planet. The seismometer has now been placed on the ground: NASA’s InSight Places First Instrument on Mars | NASA
NASA’s InSight lander has deployed its first instrument onto the surface of Mars, completing a major mission milestone. New images from the lander show the seismometer on the ground, its copper-colored covering faintly illuminated in the Martian dusk. It looks as if all is calm and all is bright for InSight, heading into the end of the year.
“InSight’s timetable of activities on Mars has gone better than we hoped,” said InSight Project Manager Tom Hoffman, who is based at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. “Getting the seismometer safely on the ground is an awesome Christmas present.”
The InSight team has been working carefully toward deploying its two dedicated science instruments onto Martian soil since landing on Mars on Nov. 26. Meanwhile, the Rotation and Interior Structure Experiment (RISE), which does not have its own separate instrument, has already begun using InSight’s radio connection with Earth to collect preliminary data on the planet’s core. Not enough time has elapsed for scientists to deduce what they want to know — scientists estimate they might have some results starting in about a year.
An image of the ground around the lander shows that Insight picked a good spot for its work:
In the coming weeks, scientists and engineers will go through the painstaking process of deciding where in this workspace the spacecraft’s instruments should be placed. They will then command InSight’s robotic arm to carefully set the seismometer (called the Seismic Experiment for Interior Structure, or SEIS) and heat-flow probe (known as the Heat Flow and Physical Properties Package, or HP3) in the chosen locations. Both work best on level ground, and engineers want to avoid setting them on rocks larger than about a half-inch (1.3 cm).
“The near-absence of rocks, hills and holes means it’ll be extremely safe for our instruments,” said InSight’s Principal Investigator Bruce Banerdt of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. “This might seem like a pretty plain piece of ground if it weren’t on Mars, but we’re glad to see that.”
InSight’s landing team deliberately chose a landing region in Elysium Planitia that is relatively free of rocks. Even so, the landing spot turned out even better than they hoped. The spacecraft sits in what appears to be a nearly rock-free “hollow” — a depression created by a meteor impact that later filled with sand. That should make it easier for one of InSight’s instruments, the heat-flow probe, to bore down to its goal of 16 feet (5 meters) below the surface.
InSight did take some time off recently to do a selfie: NASA’s InSight Takes Its First Selfie – NASA’s InSight Mars Lander
NASA’s InSight lander isn’t camera-shy. The spacecraft used a camera on its robotic arm to take its first selfie — a mosaic made up of 11 images. This is the same imaging process used by NASA’s Curiosity rover mission, in which many overlapping pictures are taken and later stitched together. Visible in the selfie are the lander’s solar panel and its entire deck, including its science instruments.
And the HiRISE camera on the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) captured images of InSight, plus its heat shield and parachute, sitting on the ground : Mars InSight Lander Seen in First Images from Space | NASA