The Sights, Sounds, and Smells of Mars
August 28, 2012 • 7:55AM

Scientists reported Monday on the latest activities of their teams and the Curiosity rover, which is now set to not only see, but also smell Mars, and has successfully transmitted a recording of a human voice back from Mars to Earth. Dave Lowery from NASA headquarters opened the briefing with a message from NASA Administrator Chrlie Bolden, which had been recorded earlier, stored in Curiosity's memory, and was played back today from Mars to Earth. It was the first time, Lowery said, that a human voice was sent from Mars, "extending a human touch." Hopefully, he said, it would be the inspiration to someone, who, like Neil Armstrong, will one day take "a giant step," this time, on Mars.

Paul Mahaffy, Principal Investigator for the Sample Analysis on Mars (SAM) suite of instruments, reported that although there was a slight glitch in the check-out of the SAM, it is ready to sniff the atmosphere of Mars. It will be able to measure trace gases down to the few parts per billion, and identify different isotopes of the same element. Asked if this means that Curiosity will "know what Mars smells like," Mahaffy said that they expect to detect evolved sulfur from rocks, so yes, they'll know what it smells like.

And John Grotzinger, Project Scientist for the mission, used a new panorama, made up of 134 images, to show the terrain Curiosity will drive through on its way to Mount Sharp. Layers of deposited material near the foot of the mountain are visible in beautiful detail, which he described as "geometric discontinuities." The layers are not even, but slant in direction, from left to right. They knew Gale Crater would have hydrated minerals, Grotziner said, which they could tell from orbit. But "the cameras discovered something we were unaware of," he said. "This is very different from what we ever expected."

Today, Curiosity will do a 10-meter drive, take some stereo images, and then start driving about 100 meters per day across the plains, going east, toward the geologically diverse Glenelg region.