It may be a long weekend in the US, but the Curiosity Rover doesn't have a free vacation on Mars.
Typically, the curiosity team plans all of the rover's activities over the weekend and leaves the rover to carry out these plans while taking a well-deserved weekend break. The time for the rover is planned in "Sols" or Mars sunny days, which at 24 hours, 39 minutes and 35 seconds are just one touch longer than a day on Earth.
The team usually plans 3-sol weekends for Curiosity, but since this weekend is a holiday, they had to plan 5 sol activities for the rover. "To give the (American) Erdlings a holiday on Friday, we have planned 5 sols of activities for curiosity today," NASA scientists wrote in a blog post. "But our rover will definitely not take days off, with a mixture of scientific and technical activities over the long weekend."
This image was taken with the Rear Hazard Avoidance Camera (Rear Hazcam) on board NASA's Mars Rover Curiosity on Sol 2809. NASA / JPL-Caltech
An important task for Curiosity this weekend is to update the rover computer's flight software as part of routine software updates. The software must also be updated regularly on Mars. The rover cannot perform scientific operations during these updates. So these tasks take up the first and last sol of the 5-sol period. Software updates can be used to add new features to the rover and improve its systems, for example by optimizing its autonomous driving skills.
Without direct physical access to the rover for years and even decades, scientists need to make the most of these software updates to keep the mission going as long as possible. In 2013, a software update even saved Curiosity's worn wheels by using a traction control algorithm to adjust the speed and alignment of the wheels to reduce wear and improve traction.
Sols 2805-2809: Front Hazard (FHAZ) image from our current work area looking back towards “Bloodstone Hill”. NASA / JPL-Caltech
In the period not spent on software updates, Curiosity will create a remote sensing science schedule, including using its ChemCam and Mastcam instruments to study the nearby rock environment for the geology themed group known as GEO.
It is also currently the dusty season on Mars when the wind picks up tiny particles that cover most surfaces. "The amount of dust in the atmosphere has increased in the past 2 weeks, although it is still within the typical values for the season above the Gale Crater," wrote the NASA scientists. But they'll keep an eye on the weather and look for dust devils to warn them of storms.