Mars Curiosity 'Litter Bug' Spied from Orbit
Aug. 7, 2012 -- NASA's Mars rover Curiosity was a bit of a litter bug as it wrapped up its 352-million mile (566-million kilometer) journey early Monday and headed toward a landing inside Gale Crater, an ancient impact basin that is home to a towering mound of sedimentary rock.
From a vantage point about 186 miles (300 kilometers) above the planet, Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, known by its acronym MRO, surveyed the scene, providing documentation (in case NASA ever faces littering charges) of Curiosity’s discarded heat shield, parachute and sky crane.
The High-Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) on board the MRO captured this shot of Curiosity. The black streaks on either side of the rover are where lighter colored top soil was blasted away by the thrust of the rocket's on the sky crane flying platform.
The heat shield, which protected the vehicle as it blasted through Mars' atmosphere, ended up about three-quarters of a mile (1,200 meters) from Curiosity's landing spot on the north side of Gale Crater, which is located near the equator in Mars' southern hemisphere.
The picture shows the heat shield in a region with lots of small craters, whereas Curiosity's landing area has more rounded hills and fewer smaller craters.
To the north of both, is a third type of terrain that has lots of buttes, mesas and pits.
"I don't know that the team has been talking about all night, but if it was up to me I would go to where those three come together, so we could start to get the flavor of what's going on here in terms of the different geologic materials," said Ken Edgett, one of the 420 Curiosity scientists.
Backshell and Parachute
The backshell, which contained the rover’s 51-foot diameter parachute, is about 673 yards (615 meters) away.
The last part of the elaborate landing system, the sky crane, lowered Curiosity to the ground on a tether at 1:32 a.m. EDT then crash-landed 711 yards (650 meters) away.
The MRO will be angling for a better shot in five days and color images in the weeks and months to come, said MRO camera scientist Sarah Milkovich.
MORE: FULL COVERAGE OF THE MARS SCIENCE LABORATORY