Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Malin Space Science Systems
This view of the landscape to the north of NASA's Mars rover Curiosity was acquired by the Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) on the afternoon of the first day after landing. (The team calls this day Sol 1, which is the first Martian day of operations; Sol 1 began on Aug. 6, 2012.)
In the distance, the image shows the north wall and rim of Gale Crater. The image is murky because the MAHLI's removable dust cover is apparently coated with dust blown onto the camera during the rover's terminal descent. Images taken without the dust cover in place are expected during checkout of the robotic arm in coming weeks.
The MAHLI is located on the turret at the end of Curiosity's robotic arm. At the time the MAHLI Sol 1 image was acquired, the robotic arm was in its stowed position. It has been stowed since the rover was packaged for its Nov. 26, 2011, launch.
The MAHLI has a transparent dust cover. This image was acquired with the dust cover closed. The cover will not be opened until more than a week after the landing.
When the robotic arm, turret, and MAHLI are stowed, the MAHLI is in a position that is rotated 30 degrees relative to the rover deck. The MAHLI image shown here has been rotated to correct for that tilt, so that the sky is "up" and the ground is "down".
When the robotic arm, turret, and MAHLI are stowed, the MAHLI is looking out from the front left side of the rover. This is much like the view from the driver's side of cars sold in the USA.
Mars rover captures nearby rocket 'footprint'
PASADENA, California (CNN) -- The Mars rover Curiosity successfully raised the mast that holds many of its instruments Wednesday, giving controllers a view of the ground scorched by the rockets that deposited it on the surface.
The car-sized rover landed on Mars early Monday after a harrowing descent that climaxed with its being lowered by a "skycrane" that hovered over the landing site. Cameras mounted on Curiosity's remote sensing mast beamed back fresh images of the site once the column was raised into position, giving NASA a view of the roughly half-meter (19-inch) "scour marks" from the rocket exhaust.
Those gouges are giving mission controllers an unexpectedly early view of the bedrock beneath the surface of Gale Crater, said John Grotzinger, a Curiosity project scientist at the California Institute of Technology.
"Apparently, there is a harder, rockier material beneath this veneer of gravel and pebbles, and obviously there's some impact ejecta," Grotzinger told reporters at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, where controllers operate the rover. While Curiosity isn't yet ready to start driving around, "Here we've already got an exploration hole drilled for us," Grotzinger said.
The mission of the mobile science laboratory is to determine whether Mars ever had an environment capable of supporting life. Its prime target is the 18,000-foot (5,500-meter) peak at the center of Gale Crater, Mount Sharp, where scientists hope to get a layer-by-layer look at the history of the planet.
Grotzinger said so far, the landscape looks somewhat familiar.
"The thing that really struck the science team about this image is that you would really be forgiven for thinking that NASA was trying to pull a fast one on you and we actually put a rover out in the Mojave Desert and took a picture -- a little L.A. smog coming in there," he said.
Controllers are still activating Curiosity's instrument package, and all antennas that will beam back data to JPL "work perfectly," mission manager Jennifer Trosper said Wednesday. The onboard weather monitoring unit has turned out to be "completely healthy" following a brief glitch reported Tuesday. The high-bandwidth antenna that aims back at Earth is beaming back "lots and lots of data" and the rover is expected to capture a color panorama of its surroundings on Thursday, she said.
"There are going to be some amazing images from that," Trosper said.
Vandi Tompkins, one of Curiosity's operators, said images like those beamed back so far will be used to program the rover's movements when it gets under way.
Because of the time needed for a radio signal from Earth to reach the rover -- about 14 minutes at Mars' current position -- "We don't command the rover with a joystick or a steering wheel in real time," Tompkins said. "If we were to do that, by the time we would see we were at the edge of a cliff, the rover would have driven off of it."
Instead, operators use the photos to develop a plan for the next day's operations and transmit it to the rover, which carries it out and sends back the results.
Curiosity will start its third full martian day, or sol, on Thursday. A sol is about 40 minutes longer than a day on Earth.
The rover is supposed to run for two years, but a previous rover, Opportunity, has been working on Mars since 2004 -- well beyond the three months NASA planned. Opportunity's sister rover, Spirit, ran from 2004 to 2010.
CNN's John Zarrella contributed to this report.