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JPL: Wind Sensors Damaged on Mars Rover

Characterized as an isolated "disappointment,'' engineers point out it is the first problem in an otherwise spectacular start to the two-week-old mission.

The Mars rover Curiosity has experienced its first minor set back, engineers told reporters during a NASA-hosted teleconference. 

One of the two sets of wind sensors on the rover is not providing data.

"One possibility is that pebbles lofted during the landing hit the delicate circuit boards on one of the two REMS booms," Curiosity Deputy Project Scientist Ashwin Vasavada of said during a news conference. 

"We will have to be more clever about using the remaining wind sensor to get wind speed and direction," he said. 

Martian Weather

The setback came as Curiosity has been investigating the Martian weather around it and the soil beneath it, as its controllers prepare for the car-size vehicle's first drive on Mars.

The rover's weather station, provided by Spain, checks air temperature, ground temperature, air pressure, wind and other variables every hour at the landing site in Gale Crater, according to a JPL press release.

On a typical Martian day, or "sol,"  based on measurements so far in the two-week old mission, air temperatures swing from 28 degrees to minus 103 degrees Fahrenheit. Between afternoon and the pre-dawn morning, temperatures change even more: from 37 degrees to minus 132 degrees Fahrenheit.

"We will learn about changes from day to day and season to season," said Javier Gómez-Elvira of the Centro de Astrobiología, Madrid, Spain, principal investigator for the suite of weather sensors called the Rover Environmental Monitoring Station (REMS). It is one of the two sets of REMS wind sensors that is not providing data.

Within a week or so, daily Mars weather reports from Curiosity will become available at:

http://cab.inta-csic.es/rems/marsweather.html or bit.ly/RzQe6p.

An instrument provided by Russia is checking for water bound into minerals in the top three feet of soil beneath the rover. It employs a technology that is used in oil prospecting on Earth, but had never before been sent to another planet.

Gearing Up for the First Drive

Curiosity will soon have a different patch of ground beneath it. On Tuesday, the six-wheeled rover wiggled its four corner wheels side to side for the first time on Mars, as a test of the steering actuators on those wheels.  This was critical preparation for Curiosity's first drive on Mars.

"Late tonight, we plan to send Curiosity the commands for doing our first drive tomorrow," said Curiosity Mission Manager Michael Watkins of JPL.

The Mars Science Laboratory spacecraft delivered Curiosity to Mars on Aug. 5. During the two-year prime mission researchers are using the rover's 10 instruments to assess whether the selected study area has ever offered environmental conditions favorable for microbial life and for preserving evidence about whether life has existed.

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