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So you spend a king's ransom building a 900KG Martian rover and another ransom transporting this miracle of modern science all the way to the red planet...
After much nail-biting, the whole thing survives a wicked plunge through the planet's thin atmosphere and a "skycrane" delivery to the rocky surface.
After the euphoria wears off, scientists and technicians set about checking all the onboard systems and, with the exception of some wind-measurement sensors, everything is nominal.Yes, Curiosity Rover was a stunning success.
But then, just yesterday, NASA received a worrying picture back from the red planet.
This is that picture and at first glance you probably don't see anything wrong.
However, the guys at NASA examine every pixel of every image with unerring precision and slightly to the right of center, near the bottom of the image, they spotted a small fleck of grey -- something decidedly out of place on the ruddy Martian surface..
I've enlarged and enhanced the image using GIMP so that the object is a little more visible:
So what is this mysterious item?
There are serious concerns that it may be part of the Rover itself and looking at the rest of the picture, I wonder if there isn't a screw missing from the lower pivot point on the robotic arm as you can see in the picture fragment below:
I've tried to find similar shots of the arm on earlier days but the MSL is sending back so much data that I gave up. I'm pretty sure however, that if it was something as simple as a screw that had fallen out, NASA would have already issued a statement to that effect.
Of course this all raises the worrying issue that if/when something does go wrong with this expensive bit of equipment -- we're stuffed.
Even orbiting satellites and the ISS can be repaired and patched-up if necessary, but when your space-lab is on another planet, it's very much on its own.
It would appear that the latest Mars mission has just gotten a whole lot more interesting -- for all the wrong reasons.
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