Curiosity has had a busy eight weeks, driving south from the Bagnold Dunes toward Vera Rubin Ridge. The path has steepened and the rover is now rapidly climbing upward with every meter traveled. It's been a productive time for arm instruments, but the drill is still not working.
In another dynamic demonstration of what can be achieved when a team works together, Opportunity cruised to the top of Perseverance Valley, shot the moon, and drove into her 160th month of surface operations in May.
The four-stop dune science campaign offered the engineers some time to continue troubleshooting the drill without any pressure to use it for science. They scooped sand at a site called Ogunquit Beach but couldn't complete the planned sample activity because of new developments in the drill inquiry. The rover has now headed onward toward Vera Rubin Ridge.
After wrapping the final science investigations on the slopes of Cape Tribulation, Opportunity climbed up and over the rim of Endeavour Crater in March and embarked on the journey south toward its next science target: Perseverance Valley.
For nearly two years, Opportunity's world has been tilted 10–25 degrees as it drove down to the lower slopes of the wall of Endeavour Crater. Toward the end of last week, Opportunity pulled itself up and over the lip of the crater.
Driving the Mars Exploration Rovers (MER) mission further into its fourteenth year of surface operations, Opportunity continued hiking the slopes of Cape Tribulation in February and finally reached the crest of Endeavour Crater’s western rim.
2017 got off to a start that was unprecedented in every good way: Opportunity completed her 13th Earth year of surface operations and drove the first overland expedition of the Red Planet into its 14th year.
Since my last update, the Curiosity mission has developed a better understanding of the problem that prevented them from drilling at Precipice, but its intermittent nature has slowed the development of a workable solution that will allow them to use the drill again. In the meantime, the rover has driven onward, making good use of its other instruments.
As 2016 came to an end and 2017 rang in, Opportunity was working the first leg of the ascent up the rugged western rim of Endeavour Crater on her way to an ancient gully, the next scientific tour de force down the road, and the mission was closing in on its 13th anniversary of surface operations coming up in the New Year.
China released a new white paper on its policy and activities in space, outlining ambitious deep space exploration, human spaceflight and space science projects as major priorities for the years up to 2020 and beyond.
2016 marks the 25th anniversary of the creation of what has become one of the primary venues for the publication of research in planetary science: the Journal of Geophysical Research: Planets. This occasion is a good opportunity to look back at what we have learned in this era of expanded exploration and to try to take a peek at the future.