This pause has provided engineers with an important opportunity to fully extend and test the rovers 2m long robotic arm. The end of the arm contains a selection of tools that will be used to scoop soil, drill rocks, and process and deliver samples to the many analytical instruments also on board. Weighing 30 kg, testing the arm ensures that it can operate as planned in Martian temperatures and, perhaps more importantly, Martian gravity (which is about 40% lower than here on Earth). Despite a slight delay due to an anomalous temperature reading, the initial testing phase has been going well and the arm is on course to drill its first rock at the Glenelg outcrop.
Other instruments currently undergoing testing are the Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) and the Alpha Particle X-ray Spectrometer (APXS). MAHLI is a small camera that will be used to provide close-up images of the minerals and textures of Martian rocks. It firstly returned a self-portrait before the dust covers were removed from the lens to capture an image of some Martian soil. The APXS will study rocks by bombarding them with alpha particles and then detecting the characteristic x-rays emitted from elements in the sample. Knowing the abundances of elements within a rock helps us to understand how it formed.
Curiosity is currently a quarter of the way to Glenelg and should reach the outcrop in the next couple of weeks.