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I put a transcript out in the tall grass of this video, NASA's latest Curiosity Rover Update. I also have a few more thoughts out there on the mission for anyone who wants to talk about it some more.

This video is an excellent reminder that the Curiosity mission is just now getting underway. Everything we have seen so far was done less for the sake of the science, but more to test and prepare all systems and instruments for the long term mission ahead. From launch, to alighting at Bradbury Landing, to the observation of an apparent prehistoric river bed, to the "Rocknest Campaign", Curiosity has taken us on a roller coaster ride of geeking out on highs and lows.

It looks like the science results so far come from testing, and establishing baselines for the systems. The science so far is incidental to this testing process. It has has been a shakedown cruise, during which the instruments have been carefully cleaned and prepared for use, and in which the materials handing tools have now all been tested, except the impact drill. However, the Rocknest material sampled by the instruments was chosen more for the quality of its grit than it's great potential to provide insight into the possibility of ancient Martian life. Here is how NASA Deputy Project Scientist Ashwin Vasavada described the nature of the Curiosity mission:  

the big questions in science, whether Copernicus finding that the Earth goes around the Sun, or Darwin, showing that natural selection drives biological evolution, were answers only after many measurements were taken, compared against one another and hypotheses were proposed and tested against the data. Only then can the big picture emerge and the theory get accepted.
It will be no different for Curiosity and its mission to understand the habitability of ancient Mars at Gale Crater.
That's pretty big talk, for a scientist. Certainly the work of Copernicus and Darwin were "for the history books". The work NASA scientists are doing on Mars today may yet make discoveries of such timeless stature.

Here is the full transcript of NASA's latest Curiosity Rover Update.  All errors attributed to LeftOfYou.

Hi.

I am Ashwin Vasavada, Deputy Project Scientist, Mars Science Laboratory, and this is you  Curiosity Rover Update.

It's been a momentous week for Curiosity. We've wrapped up our scientific study of Rocknest, which also means that we've completed the check-out and first scientific use of all of our instruments on the rover, and it is truly working great.

We began the Rocknest Campaign by searching for a suitable drift of sandy soil using our Mastcam color cameras. We used our ChemCam Laser and our APXS chemical sensor to do an initial chemical analysis of the soil determining whether it was similar to soils that we understand from Spirit and Opportunity and therefore safe for scooping and sending to our laboratories. We used MAHLI, our hand lens imager, to take close-up views of the soil to look at different particle sizes, shapes and colors and how they change with depth.

We then scooped up the soil and analyzed it with our X-ray diffraction instrument, that can identify minerals in soil based on their unique crystal structure. But it turned out that a good amount of the material in the soil was not crystalline. But that's no problem for our other laboratory, SAM. SAM heated up the soil in an oven and measured various gases released as the soil components broke down, such as water, carbon dioxide, oxygen and sulphur.

Not surprisingly, the results show a composition that is typical of Mars soils studied at other sites, with, perhaps, some very simple carbon containing molecules and perchlorate salts. We haven't yet seen any complex organic molecules, but sand isn't the best place to look.

Finally, it's worth remembering that the big questions in science, whether Copernicus finding that the Earth goes around the Sun, or Darwin, showing that natural selection drives biological evolution, were answers only after many measurements were taken, compared against one another and hypotheses were proposed and tested against the data. Only then can the big picture emerge and the theory get accepted.
It will be no different for Curiosity and its mission to understand the habitability of ancient Mars at Gale Crater. There won't be any single measurement or instrument that will answer everything. We are in it for the long haul.

But now we know we have a fantastic rover, a great set of tools, and a fully functional scientific payload. So let's get on exploring.  

This has been your Curiosity Rover Report.

For all of my Mars diaries and all things Mars on Daily Kos go to Kossacks on Mars

Originally posted to LeftOfYou on Mon Dec 10, 2012 at 07:29 PM PST.

Also republished by Astro Kos and SciTech.

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