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NASA Mars Curiosity rover gets to work on 'spring break' chores

April 05, 2013|By Amina Khan
  • NASA's Curiosity rover is taking a month-long break during solar conjunction, when the sun blocks easy communication to Mars. Engineers won't interact with it every day until May.
NASA's Curiosity rover is taking a month-long break during solar… ( NASA/JPL-Caltech )

Hear that? That’s the sound of silence from NASA’s Curiosity rover -- and possibly the sound of separation anxiety at Jet Propulsion Laboratory, as the intrepid Martian robot takes nearly a month-long break from exploring the Red Planet.

Mars has entered a phase known as "solar conjunction," which is when the sun lines up between Earth and the Red Planet, blocking communications with the rover. To avoid any mishaps, the Mars Science Laboratory mission is letting the rover operate solo until about May 1 -- giving it about three and a half weeks of vacation time.

But this will be a working vacation, mission project manager Richard Cook said in a recent interview. Curiosity will work off a detailed to-do list sent up by the engineers. (So much for sneaking off to Endeavour Crater to hang with Opportunity.)

"We’re sending one long set of instructions to tell it what to do every day for the 24 days or 25 days it’s in conjunction," Cook said. "We just won’t interact with it every day."

Most of the science Curiosity will have to do in that time will involve monitoring radiation levels and Martian weather, he added. “As far as driving … we’ll be doing none of that.”

The scientists plan on keeping the rover around Yellowknife Bay once May rolls around -- there’s apparently still much to be done, after Curiosity discovered signs last month that Mars could have provided an environment hospitable to life

Follow me on Twitter @aminawrite.

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