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  Opportunity and Spirit rove Mars (2009) (Page 1)

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Author Topic:   Opportunity and Spirit rove Mars (2009)
Robert Pearlman
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posted 10-15-2007 08:06 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Robert Pearlman   Click Here to Email Robert Pearlman     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
NASA release
NASA Extends Operations for Its Long-Lived Mars Rovers

NASA is extending, for a fifth time, the activities of the Mars Exploration Rovers Spirit and Opportunity. The decision keeps the trailblazing mobile robotic pioneers active on opposite sides of Mars, possibly through 2009. This extended mission and the associated science are dependent upon the continued productivity and operability of the rovers.

"We are extremely happy to be able to further the exploration of Mars. The rovers are amazing machines, and they continue to produce amazing scientific results operating far beyond their design life," said Alan Stern, associate administrator for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, Washington.

The twin rovers landed on Mars in January 2004, 45 months ago, on missions originally planned to last 90 days. In September, Opportunity began descending into Victoria Crater in Mars' Meridiani Planum region. At approximately a half mile wide and 230 feet deep, it is the largest crater the rover has visited. Spirit climbed onto a volcanic plateau in a range of hills that were on the distant horizon from the landing site.

"After more than three-and-a-half years, Spirit and Opportunity are showing some signs of aging, but they are in good health and capable of conducting great science," said John Callas, rover project manager at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.

The rovers each carry a suite of sophisticated instruments to examine the geology of Mars for information about past environmental conditions. Opportunity has returned dramatic evidence that its area of Mars stayed wet for an extended period of time long ago, with conditions that could have been suitable for sustaining microbial life. Spirit has found evidence in the region it is exploring that water in some form has altered the mineral composition of some soils and rocks.

To date, Spirit has driven 4.51 miles and has returned more than 102,000 images. Opportunity has driven 7.19 miles and has returned more than 94,000 images.

Among the rovers' many other accomplishments:

  • Opportunity has analyzed a series of exposed rock layers recording how environmental conditions changed during the times when the layers were deposited and later modified. Wind-blown dunes came and went. The water table fluctuated.

  • Spirit has recorded dust devils forming and moving. The images were made into movie clips, providing new insight into the interaction of Mars' atmosphere and surface.

  • Both rovers have found metallic meteorites on Mars. Opportunity discovered one rock with a composition similar to a meteorite that reached Earth from Mars.
JPL manages the rovers for NASA's Science Mission Directorate.

Rick Boos
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posted 10-15-2007 11:34 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Rick Boos   Click Here to Email Rick Boos     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
This is NASA at it's absolute BEST!!!!!!!

Gilbert
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posted 10-23-2007 11:22 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Gilbert   Click Here to Email Gilbert     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Amen! What a spectacular success!

1202 Alarm
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posted 10-23-2007 01:08 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for 1202 Alarm     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
At it's best, definitely. And a reminder... it is not a manned mission.

Philip
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posted 10-25-2007 11:08 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Philip   Click Here to Email Philip     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
We all know Opportunity performed an in-and-out drive on the slope of Victoria Crater on September 11, 2007. In fact, there are two very tangible pieces of New York on Mars. On each Mars Exploration Rover, a curved piece of metal the size of a credit card and adorned with the American flag was cut out of debris from the World Trade Center. This US flag can be seen at pictures showing the science suite at the end of the robotic arm. Until November 2004, this knowledge remained within the mission team. Thought it's nice to remind the collectSPACE.com community of this tribute.

gliderpilotuk
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posted 12-11-2007 11:12 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for gliderpilotuk   Click Here to Email gliderpilotuk     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
What an awesome success story these missions have been.

BBC: Mars robot unearths microbe clue

tegwilym
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posted 12-15-2007 08:33 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for tegwilym   Click Here to Email tegwilym     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Spirit really needs to get hit again by a dust devil. Things aren't looking real good for that little rover.

If you haven't seen The Planetary Society blog, you really need to check it out. There are some great images on there all the time that you don't run into on the usual sites.

SRB
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posted 01-03-2008 07:57 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for SRB   Click Here to Email SRB     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Happy Birthday Spirit

Today Spirit has spent four Earth years exploring Mars. I can't believe it has been that long since I waited (with millions of others) to hear if Spirit landed safely on Mars. It has been an awsome adventure following this rover, and its twin Opportunity. Congratulations to JPL, NASA and everyone else involved.

tegwilym
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posted 01-04-2008 02:37 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for tegwilym   Click Here to Email tegwilym     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by SRB:
Happy Birthday Spirit
So how many of you had landing, launch, or comet bashing parties?

When there is something major like a landing or something, I sent out an invite to my local space geek friends and we gather at my house in front of my 55 inch TV with the NASA channel. I had a Mars landing party for both the rovers, Saturn Cassini arrival and the best party was the Deep Impact. It was in the summer, and I set up a projector and screen in the backyard with a wireless video connection. We watched the Deep Impact live under the stars, and we had a friend set up a scope also to see if we could find it (my observatory wouldn't reach that low in the west).

Good fun, and even better when you can gather with friends that "get it" if you know what I mean.

Philip
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posted 01-05-2008 05:20 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Philip   Click Here to Email Philip     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
The 4th anniversary of Opportunity's landing is just 20 days away

Columbiad1
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posted 01-22-2008 09:48 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Columbiad1   Click Here to Email Columbiad1     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Will either the Spirit or Opportunity rovers make it to Mariner Valley on Mars or Mount Olympus to take probably what would be the most beautiful surface photos that exists so far on another world? The idea of the rovers taking a photo from the ledge of Mariner Valley that is almost 5 miles deep, 121 miles wide, and 2,500 miles long remains to be an awesome photo. Mariner Valley dwarfs the Grand Canyon in the U.S. and actually Mariner Valley would stretch straight across the United States from Atlantic to Pacific. It is the largest crevice in the entire solar system! Also, a photo of Mount Olympus from the ground would be equally as beautiful... at almost 75,000 feet high, Mt. Olympus dwarfs Mt. Everest on Earth at which is 29,028 feet high. So do the rovers plan to travel to these two points and take photos. I think this would of been an ideal spot to land the rovers... I think Opportunity is closer to Mariner Valley and Spirit is closer to Mt. Olympus. See this map (Olympus Mons is Mt. Olympus and Valles Marineris is Mariner Valley).

Philip
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posted 01-22-2008 11:02 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Philip   Click Here to Email Philip     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
No way, in the state both rovers are in they'll stay another 6 months near their current locations...

For exercise, take NASA SP-438 (Atlas of Mars - The 1:5000000 Map Series) and check where Valles Marineris is and compare this with the landing locations of both MER rovers:

  • Spirit (14.5 South, 175.4 East) Gusev Crater
  • Opportunity (1.9 South, 354.4 East) Meridiani Planum

gliderpilotuk
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posted 01-23-2008 04:52 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for gliderpilotuk   Click Here to Email gliderpilotuk     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Great photo: Bigfoot on Mars? NASA captures alien figure

Scott
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posted 01-23-2008 06:30 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Scott   Click Here to Email Scott     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Looks like Bigfoot is a cross-dresser (not that there's anything wrong with that).

Robert Pearlman
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posted 01-23-2008 08:41 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Robert Pearlman   Click Here to Email Robert Pearlman     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
'Bigfoot' looks absolutely tiny in the original uncropped photo (either that, or Spirit has grown super large).

cspg
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posted 01-23-2008 10:23 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for cspg   Click Here to Email cspg     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
It's called "Survival of the Fittest"!

"Bigfoot, also known as Sasquatch, is a figure in North American folklore alleged to inhabit remote forests"

See, that's what happens with deforestation...

Philip
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posted 03-24-2008 03:13 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Philip   Click Here to Email Philip     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
1500 sols for Spirit!

Blackarrow
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posted 03-24-2008 01:56 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Blackarrow     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I have it on good authority that the only important components on Spirit and Opportunity which have failed are the "off" controls, so NASA will have to send a team of astronauts to Mars to effect a manual shutdown of the Rovers.

Robert Pearlman
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posted 03-24-2008 03:52 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Robert Pearlman   Click Here to Email Robert Pearlman     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
The "off switch" may be broken, but apparently Spirit's "hibernate button" may soon be tested. From Leonard David:
A directive has come from NASA Headquarters to take a 40 percent financial cut in their program - some $4 million in fiscal year 2008.

It all comes down to a financial stun gun for one of the rovers - both still busy at work doing science. Cost per year to run the Mars twins is $20 million per year.

Steve Squyres, the MER principal investigator at Cornell University, told me that the 40 percent cut is huge. "We're rapidly coming to the conclusion that if we have to implement this cut, it's going to mean essentially shutting off science activities for one of the vehicles."

Safely shutting down a rover on a temporary basis is doable, Squyres said, a move that could save money but at the expense of science. "We're going to go off and look at what our options are... but I feel confident that we have to essentially halt science operations on one of the two vehicles."

While both robots are healthy and doing good science, it looks like the one to hibernate for the remainder of this fiscal year could be Spirit, Squyres suggested.

Orthon
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posted 03-24-2008 05:40 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Orthon   Click Here to Email Orthon     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Let's hope that this government doesn't repeat the idiotic Viking Lander shutdown ineptitude with the MER rovers. A disgusting waste of valuable scientific tools.

issman1
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posted 03-24-2008 06:38 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for issman1     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I am disappointed that such a profoundly successful mission is gradually being terminated.

Perhaps the VSE people are worried Spirit and Opportunity lend credence to the views of Robert Park and others that robots are better-suited and cheaper for Mars exploration than humans?

They needn't worry, as I doubt any astronauts will set foot on the Red Planet in my lifetime. And I'm in my 30s(!)

cspg
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posted 03-25-2008 01:17 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for cspg   Click Here to Email cspg     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Are the Ares/Orion/Altair programs so desperate for funds? Or is it that NASA thinks that no more "good" science is going to come out of the rovers?

Robert Pearlman
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posted 03-25-2008 01:32 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Robert Pearlman   Click Here to Email Robert Pearlman     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
The articles thus far suggest that it is neither a case of Constellation funding nor a lack of desire for "good" science.

Rather, it appears that these budget cuts are a result of significant cost overruns by Spirit's and Opportunity's intended replacement and a shift in priorities among the space science community.

Mars Science Laboratory is over budget by a couple of hundred million, while there has been a growing call for NASA to shift its funding focus from Mars to the outer planets (and in particular their moons).

The rumors of Spirit's demise however, may be premature. According to the Associated Press, "NASA Administrator Michael Griffin said late Monday he was against terminating a rover. Agency spokesman Dwayne Brown did not say whether funding would be restored to the rovers or whether cuts would be made to other Mars projects for Spirit to keep operating."

Philip
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posted 03-25-2008 06:56 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Philip   Click Here to Email Philip     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
NASA budget cut threatens MER duties!

I would hate to see the Mars Exploration Rovers' budget running out before the rovers do... But what if?

Although NASA Administrator Michael Griffin might be against a shutdown, if they'll have to make a choice I guess Spirit would become the victim as it has been doing a lot of five wheel driving (after problems with the right front wheel since March 2006). Moreover, Opportunity is in a far more interesting place

Cost per year to run the Mars twins is $20 million per year.

jimsz
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posted 03-25-2008 07:04 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for jimsz     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
According to the USA Today:
The news comes amid belt-tightening at NASA headquarters, which is under pressure to cover cost overruns of a flagship Mars mission to land a Hummer-sized rover on the Red Planet next year.
It seems another Mars mission is eating into the money.

I'd really rather see NASA chop money out of the ISS than the Mars Rovers.

Robert Pearlman
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posted 03-25-2008 01:35 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Robert Pearlman   Click Here to Email Robert Pearlman     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Associated Press: NASA: Mars Rovers Won't Be Cut
NASA is saying Tuesday that it has rescinded a letter that recommended budget cuts in the Mars Rover program to cover the cost of a next-generation rover on the Red Planet.

The move comes a day after scientists at the agency's robotics center said they would need to hibernate one of the twin Mars robots and limit the duties of the other because their budget was being cut by $4 million.

That announcement was based on a letter NASA sent to the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena last week.

But NASA is saying in a statement Tuesday that neither of the rovers will be shut down.

Rick Boos
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posted 03-25-2008 02:46 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Rick Boos   Click Here to Email Rick Boos     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
That's GREAT news!!!! It would have been terrible to have tuned our backs on them just because of budget problems! Who knows what they might discover in the months ahead! Way to go NASA!

tegwilym
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posted 03-25-2008 03:44 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for tegwilym   Click Here to Email tegwilym     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
...but they say they will hibernate Spirit and cut back on Opportunity. Who knows if Spirit will want to wake up again in the spring?

Robert Pearlman
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posted 03-25-2008 03:54 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Robert Pearlman   Click Here to Email Robert Pearlman     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Tom, that was only in the case that the budget cuts went forward (though the rovers must hibernate through the winter months on Mars, regardless of how much money is provided for their operation).

Blackarrow
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posted 08-20-2008 07:21 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Blackarrow     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Does anyone have any idea what Opportunity is doing at the moment? I regularly look at the images coming down from Mars, but I can get no sense of what the controllers are trying to do. They seem absolutely determined to keep Opportunity away from anything really interesting, and the microscopic imager hasn't been used for months. Is it broken? Why are the latest "press images" months old? I know we have a new kid on the block in the shape of Phoenix, but while Opportunity still functions, shouldn't they be taking some risks to maximize the science? Is there any current mission-plan I can check?

tegwilym
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posted 08-21-2008 12:32 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for tegwilym   Click Here to Email tegwilym     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by Blackarrow:
Does anyone have any idea what Opportunity is doing at the moment?
The last I heard was that they were backing it out of the crater again. I was thinking that Victoria was the last stop for the rover, but it seems they are being careful with it again since it's still doing pretty well with power. I forget where I saw it, but there was something about leaving Victoria and heading on to another crater. Anyone know different?

I too am kind of disappointed with the lack of coverage on those rovers lately. Usually I read Emily Lakdawalla's blog on the Planetary Society's site to keep up with things. She seems to find all the good stuff!

Robert Pearlman
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posted 08-26-2008 03:43 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Robert Pearlman   Click Here to Email Robert Pearlman     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
NASA release
NASA's Mars Rover Opportunity Climbing Out of Victoria Crater

NASA's Mars Exploration rover Opportunity is heading back out to the Red Planet's surrounding plains nearly a year after descending into a large Martian crater to examine exposed ancient rock layers.

"We've done everything we entered Victoria Crater to do and more," said Bruce Banerdt, of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. Banerdt is project scientist for Opportunity and its rover twin, Spirit.

Having completed its job in the crater, Opportunity is now preparing to inspect loose cobbles on the plains. Some of these rocks, approximately fist-size and larger, were thrown long distances when objects hitting Mars blasted craters deeper than Victoria into the Red Planet. Opportunity has driven past scores of cobbles but examined only a few.

"Our experience tells us there's lots of diversity among the cobbles," said Scott McLennan of the State University of New York, Stony Brook. McLennan is a long-term planning leader for the rover science team. "We want to get a better characterization of them. A statistical sampling from examining more of them will be important for understanding the geology of the area."

Opportunity entered Victoria Crater on Sept. 11, 2007, after a year of scouting from the rim. Once a drivable inner slope was identified, the rover used contact instruments on its robotic arm to inspect the composition and textures of accessible layers.

The rover then drove close to the base of a cliff called "Cape Verde," part of the crater rim, to capture detailed images of a stack of layers 20 feet tall. The information Opportunity has returned about the layers in Victoria suggest the sediments were deposited by wind and then altered by groundwater.

"The patterns broadly resemble what we saw at the smaller craters Opportunity explored earlier," McLennan said. "By looking deeper into the layering, we are looking farther back in time." The crater stretches approximately a half mile in diameter and is deeper than any other seen by Opportunity.

Engineers are programming Opportunity to climb out of the crater at the same place it entered. A spike in electric current drawn by the rover's left front wheel last month quickly settled discussions about whether to keep trying to edge even closer to the base of Cape Verde on a steep slope. The spike resembled one seen on Spirit when that rover lost the use of its right front wheel in 2006. Opportunity's six wheels are all still working after 10 times more use than they were designed to perform, but the team took the spike in current as a reminder that one could quit.

"If Opportunity were driving with only five wheels, like Spirit, it probably would never get out of Victoria Crater," said JPL's Bill Nelson, a rover mission manager. "We also know from experience with Spirit that if Opportunity were to lose the use of a wheel after it is out on the level ground, mobility should not be a problem."

Opportunity now drives with its robotic arm out of the stowed position. A shoulder motor has degraded over the years to the point where the rover team chose not to risk having it stop working while the arm is stowed on a hook. If the motor were to stop working with the arm unstowed, the arm would remain usable.

Spirit has resumed observations after surviving the harshest weeks of southern Martian winter. The rover won't move from its winter haven until the amount of solar energy available to it increases a few months from now. The rover has completed half of a full-circle color panorama from its sun-facing location on the north edge of a low plateau called "Home Plate."

"Both rovers show signs of aging, but they are both still capable of exciting exploration and scientific discovery," said JPL's John Callas, project manager for Spirit and Opportunity.

The team's plan for future months is to drive Spirit south of Home Plate to an area where the rover last year found some bright, silica-rich soil. This could be possible evidence of effects of hot water.

Robert Pearlman
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posted 09-22-2008 11:09 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Robert Pearlman   Click Here to Email Robert Pearlman     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
NASA release
NASA's Mars Rover To Head Toward Bigger Crater

NASA's Mars Rover Opportunity is setting its sights on a crater more than 20 times larger than its home for the past two years.

To reach the crater the rover team calls Endeavour, Opportunity would need to drive approximately 7 miles to the southeast, matching the total distance it has traveled since landing on Mars in early 2004. The rover climbed out of Victoria Crater earlier this month.

"We may not get there, but it is scientifically the right direction to go anyway," said Steve Squyres of Cornell University, principal investigator for the science instruments on Opportunity and its twin rover, Spirit. "This crater is staggeringly large compared to anything we've seen before."

Getting there would yield a look inside a bowl 13.7 miles across. Scientists expect to see a much deeper stack of rock layers than those examined by Opportunity in Victoria Crater.

"I would love to see that view from the rim," Squyres said. "But even if we never get there, as we move southward we expect to be getting to younger and younger layers of rock on the surface. Also, there are large craters to the south that we think are sources of cobbles that we want to examine out on the plain. Some of the cobbles are samples of layers deeper than Opportunity will ever see, and we expect to find more cobbles as we head toward the south."

Opportunity will have to pick up the pace to get there. The rover team estimates Opportunity may be able to travel about 110 yards each day it is driven toward the Endeavour crater. Even at that pace, the journey could take two years.

"This is a bolder, more aggressive objective than we have had before," said John Callas, the project manager for both Mars rovers at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. "It's tremendously exciting. It's new science. It's the next great challenge for these robotic explorers."

Opportunity, like Spirit, is well past its expected lifetime on Mars, and might not keep working long enough to reach the crater. However, two new resources not available during the 4-mile drive toward Victoria Crater in 2005 and 2006 are expected to aid in this new trek.

One is imaging from orbit of details smaller than the rover itself, using the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera on NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, which arrived at the Red Planet in 2006.

"HiRISE allows us to identify drive paths and potential hazards on the scale of the rover along the route," Callas said. "This is a great example of how different parts of NASA's Mars Exploration Program reinforce each other."

Other advantages come from a new version of flight software uplinked to Opportunity and Spirit in 2006, boosting their ability to autonomously choose routes and avoid hazards such as sand dunes.

During its first year on Mars, Opportunity found geological evidence that the area where it landed had surface and underground water in the distant past. The rover's explorations since have added information about how that environment changed over time. Finding rock layers above or below the layers already examined adds windows into later or earlier periods of time.

NASA's JPL built and manage the rovers and the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, Washington.

Robert Pearlman
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posted 11-12-2008 03:29 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Robert Pearlman   Click Here to Email Robert Pearlman     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
NASA release

The deck of NASA's Mars Exploration Rover Spirit is so dusty that the rover almost blends into the dusty background. (File photo from 2007)

Dust Storm Cuts Energy Supply of NASA Mars Rover Spirit

A dust storm on Mars has cut into the amount of sunlight reaching the solar array on NASA's Mars Exploration Rover Spirit, leaving the rover in a vulnerable state.

Spirit's solar array produced only 89 watt hours of energy during the rover's 1,725th Martian day, which ended on Nov. 9. This is the lowest output by either Spirit or its twin, Opportunity, in their nearly five years on Mars, and much less energy than Spirit needs each day. The charge level of Spirit's batteries is dropping so low, it risks triggering an automated response of the rover trying to protect itself.

"The best chance for survival for Spirit is for us to maintain sequence control of the rover, as opposed to it going into automated fault protection," said John Callas of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., project manager for Spirit and Opportunity.

Mission controllers are commanding Spirit to turn off some heaters, including one that protects a science instrument, the miniature thermal emission spectrometer, and take other measures to reduce energy consumption. The commands will tell Spirit not to try communicating again until Thursday. While pursuing that strategy the team also plans to listen to Spirit frequently during the next few days to detect signals the rover might send if it does go into a low-energy fault protection mode.

Mars weather forecasts suggest the dust storm may be clearing now or in the next few days. However, the dust falling from the sky onto Spirit's solar array panels also could leave a lingering reduction in the amount of electricity the rover can produce.

Philip
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posted 11-13-2008 12:20 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Philip   Click Here to Email Philip     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
In other words: Since February 2008, Spirit only moved a few centimeters to get a better angle towards the Sun...

Philip
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posted 11-14-2008 08:50 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Philip   Click Here to Email Philip     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Meanwhile, Opportunity is heading towards the 22 kilometers wide Endeavour crater. After the November/December Solar conjunction, the rover team plans to continue the trek as it would take Opportunity about one year to reach “Endeavour Crater”.

Record drives for both MERs:

Opportunity: top distance set during Sol 410 = 220 meters (722 feet)
Spirit: top distance set during Sol 125 = 124 meters (409 feet)

Robert Pearlman
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posted 01-02-2009 07:30 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Robert Pearlman   Click Here to Email Robert Pearlman     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
NASA release
Mars Rovers Near Five Years of Science and Discovery

NASA rovers Spirit and Opportunity may still have big achievements ahead as they approach the fifth anniversaries of their memorable landings on Mars.

Of the hundreds of engineers and scientists who cheered at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., on Jan. 3, 2004, when Spirit landed safely, and 21 days later when Opportunity followed suit, none predicted the team would still be operating both rovers in 2009.

"The American taxpayer was told three months for each rover was the prime mission plan," said Ed Weiler, associate administrator for NASA's Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington. "The twins have worked almost 20 times that long. That's an extraordinary return of investment in these challenging budgetary times."

The rovers have made important discoveries about wet and violent environments on ancient Mars. They also have returned a quarter-million images, driven more than 21 kilometers (13 miles), climbed a mountain, descended into craters, struggled with sand traps and aging hardware, survived dust storms, and relayed more than 36 gigabytes of data via NASA's Mars Odyssey orbiter. To date, the rovers remain operational for new campaigns the team has planned for them.

"These rovers are incredibly resilient considering the extreme environment the hardware experiences every day," said John Callas, JPL project manager for Spirit and Opportunity. "We realize that a major rover component on either vehicle could fail at any time and end a mission with no advance notice, but on the other hand, we could accomplish the equivalent duration of four more prime missions on each rover in the year ahead."

Occasional cleaning of dust from the rovers' solar panels by Martian wind has provided unanticipated aid to the vehicles' longevity. However, it is unreliable aid. Spirit has not had a good cleaning for more than 18 months. Dust-coated solar panels barely provided enough power for Spirit to survive its third southern-hemisphere winter, which ended in December.

"This last winter was a squeaker for Spirit," Callas said. "We just made it through."

With Spirit's energy rising for spring and summer, the team plans to drive the rover to a pair of destinations about 183 meters (200 yards) south of the site where Spirit spent most of 2008. One is a mound that might yield support for an interpretation that a plateau Spirit has studied since 2006, called Home Plate, is a remnant of a once more-extensive sheet of explosive volcanic material. The other destination is a house-size pit called Goddard.

"Goddard doesn't look like an impact crater," said Steve Squyres of Cornell University, in Ithaca, N.Y. Squyres is principal investigator for the rover science instruments. "We suspect it might be a volcanic explosion crater, and that's something we haven't seen before."

A light-toned ring around the inside of the pit might add information about a nearby patch of bright, silica-rich soil that Squyres counts as Spirit's most important discovery so far. Spirit churned up the silica in mid-2007 with an immobile wheel that the rover has dragged like an anchor since it quit working in 2006. The silica was likely produced in an environment of hot springs or steam vents.

For Opportunity, the next major destination is Endeavour Crater. It is approximately 22 kilometers (14 miles) in diameter, more than 20 times larger than another impact crater, Victoria, where Opportunity spent most of the past two years. Although Endeavour is about 12 kilometers (7 miles) from Victoria, it is considerably farther as the rover drives on a route evading major obstacles.

Since climbing out of Victoria four months ago, Opportunity has driven more than a mile of its route toward Endeavour and stopped to inspect the first of several loose rocks the team plans to examine along the way. High-resolution images from NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, which reached Mars in 2006, are helping the team plot routes around potential sand traps that were not previously discernable from orbit.

"We keep setting the bar higher for what these rovers can do," said Frank Hartman, a JPL rover driver. "Once it seemed like a crazy idea to go to Endeavour, but now we're doing it."

Squyres said, "The journeys have been motivated by science, but have led to something else important. This has turned into humanity's first overland expedition on another planet. When people look back on this period of Mars exploration decades from now, Spirit and Opportunity may be considered most significant not for the science they accomplished, but for the first time we truly went exploring across the surface of Mars."

Robert Pearlman
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NASA release

Browse Image | Medium Image (203 kB) | Large (1.8 MB) | Full Resolution (38.5 MB)

Full-Circle 'Bonestell' Panorama from Spirit (Annotated)

Notes on this 360-degree panorama from the panoramic camera (Pancam) on NASA's Mars Exploration Rover Spirit indicate locations for several events of the first five Earth years since Spirit landed inside Gusev Crater.

Spirit landed on January 4, 2004, Universal Time (January 3, 2004, Pacific Standard Time).

The view is from the spot where Spirit has spent its third Martian southern-hemisphere winter, on the northern edge of a low plateau informally called "Home Plate." A dotted line marks the edge of Home Plate, which is about 80 meters or 260 feet in diameter.

The images combined into this panoramic view were taken by Spirit beginning on the mission's 1,477th Martian day, or sol, (February 28, 2008) and finishing on Sol 1691 (October 5, 2008). The rover stayed in place for most of 2008 because of the low energy available to it during the Martian southern hemisphere winter. Spirit began shifting position to adjust its tilt on Sol 1709 (October 23, 2008), but the rover's location at the end of 2008 is within about a meter (3 feet) of the position from which this panorama was acquired.

The distance measurements shown with the name of a feature indicate the distance of that feature from where Spirit was while taking this image. The units are meters and feet, except for Grissom Hill and the Spirit landing site, for which the units are kilometers and miles. Husband Hill, for example, is seen near the right edge of the panorama, to the north, and its summit is 754 meters (2,413 meters) away. Spirit's landing site is 3.8 kilometers (2.3 miles) away to the northwest, on the Gusev plains.

Where sol numbers are given in the notes on this panorama, they refer to the sol during which Spirit was at or near that feature or position. For example, Spirit reached the summit of Husband Hill on Sol 619 (Sept. 29, 2005). On its way from the base of the Columbia Hills to that height, it spent sols 156 to 312 (June 11 to November 18, 2004) on the West Spur of the Columbia Hills range. It had reached Home Plate and was examining a rock called "Fuzzy Smith" by sols 768 to 771 (March 1 to March 4, 2006). Spirit spent its second Martian winter on Low Ridge to the southeast from this viewpoint, from sol 804 to sol 1036 (April 8 to December 2, 2006). In 2007, it climbed up the south end of Home Plate and left tracks visible at several locations on Home Plate as it approached the location that is the viewpoint for this panorama.

In the center foreground, the turret of tools at the end of Spirit's robotic arm appears in duplicate because the arm was repositioned between the days when the images making up that part of the mosaic were taken. On the horizon above the turret, to the south, is a small hill called "Von Braun," capped with a light-toned outcrop. It and a nearby pit ("Goddard," out of sight behind Home Plate) are possible destinations for Spirit during the upcoming Martian southern-hemisphere summer.

This is an approximate true-color, red-green-blue composite panorama generated from images taken through the Pancam's 600-nanometer, 530-nanometer and 480-nanometer filters. This "natural color" view is the rover team's best estimate of what the scene would look like if we were there and able to see it with our own eyes.

Robert Pearlman
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Mars Exploration Rover Mission Status Report
Mars Rover Team Diagnosing Unexpected Behavior

The team operating NASA's Mars Exploration Rover Spirit plans diagnostic tests this week after Spirit did not report some of its weekend activities, including a request to determine its orientation after an incomplete drive.

On Sunday, during the 1,800th Martian day, or sol, of what was initially planned as a 90-sol mission on Mars, information radioed from Spirit indicated the rover had received its driving commands for the day but had not moved. That can happen for many reasons, including the rover properly sensing that it is not ready to drive. However, other behavior on Sol 1800 was even more unusual: Spirit apparently did not record the day's main activities into the non-volatile memory, the part of its memory that persists even when power is off.

On Monday, Spirit's controllers at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., chose to command the rover on Tuesday, Sol 1802, to find the sun with its camera in order to precisely determine its orientation. Not knowing its orientation could have been one possible explanation for Spirit not doing its weekend drive. Early Tuesday, Spirit reported that it had tried to follow the commands, but had not located the sun.

"We don't have a good explanation yet for the way Spirit has been acting for the past few days," said JPL's Sharon Laubach, chief of the team that writes and checks commands for the rovers. "Our next steps will be diagnostic activities."

Among other possible causes, the team is considering a hypothesis of transitory effects from cosmic rays hitting electronics. On Tuesday, Spirit apparently used its non-volatile memory properly.

Despite the rover's unexplained behavior, Mars Exploration Rovers' Project Manager John Callas of JPL said Wednesday, “Right now, Spirit is under normal sequence control, reporting good health and responsive to commands from the ground."

JPL, a division of the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, manages the Mars Exploration Rover project for the NASA Science Mission Directorate, Washington. Spirit and its twin, Opportunity, landed on Mars in January 2004 and have operated 20 times longer than their original prime missions.

Robert Pearlman
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Update from Spirit and Opportunity's Twitter feed:
Better news from Spirit: She found the sun, just not where she expected. I'm sure it happens to all of us Diagnosis continues.


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