It's been a relatively quiet but scientifically significant month on the Red Planet for the Mars Exploration Rovers. While Opportunity continued its long journey to Endeavour Crater, forced to take it slower and make longer stops to rest its 'hot' front wheel, Spirit, seemingly just biding its time embedded in a sand pit it slipped into in April, turned up one of the most intriguing discoveries on the mission to date.
The Mars Exploration Rovers hit some rough patches in May as Spirit sat stuck in a sand patch all month and Opportunity had to stop again to rest its right front wheel but with a little help from Mars, the intrepid, twin robot field geologists cruised through the summer solstice with the energy and invincibility of a couple of teenage robots.
The Mars Exploration Rovers challenged their ground crews with an April full of high drama, a little suspense, and a lot of energy. While Spirit lived through a kind of robot soap opera, complete with bewildering reboots and bouts of amnesia, Opportunity roved forward and back into the fast lane on a restored front wheel, slowing down for a brief visit to a series of small, intriguing craters and an unplanned close encounter with a pesky little purgatoid.
The Mars Exploration Rovers logged a memorable March, with Spirit finally making some serious tracks and setting a new driving record for a five-wheeled rover, and Opportunity getting a first glimpse on the distant horizon of its next big attraction, Endeavour Crater as it crossed a geologic boundary into a new field of "blueberries."
Despite some struggles with terrain and technology, the Mars Exploration Rovers moved their missions forward in February, as Spirit and Opportunity pressed on toward their next major Martian attractions.
The Mars Exploration Rover mission crossed the finish line of another major milestone this month, marking its fifth anniversary of exploring the Red Planet. As team members celebrated and shared stories in events all around Los Angeles, Spirit and Opportunity kept on roving, bucking up under the inevitable pains of growing older. They're heading now for their next major destinations.
Tonight at the Boston Court Performing Arts Center in Pasadena, Jim Bell and Bill Nye will be celebrating the 5th anniversary of the landing of the rovers; Jim will be showing lots of pretty 3D pictures.
A tip of the hat to Ryan over at Martian Chronicles for posting this lovely version of the Santorini panorama, which Opportunity captured just before Mars dipped too close to the Sun in late November of last year.
Scott Maxwell is one of those many guys (and gals) at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory who rarely gets his name in the news but who is absolutely indispensable to the success of a space mission. I don't know what his official title is, but whatever it is, it's not as good as the colloquial name given to his position: Rover Driver.
As 2008 fades to the pages of history, Spirit and Opportunity are closing in on the end of their fifth year of exploration on the Red Planet and moving the Mars Exploration Rover mission forward into a new year of bold scientific objectives.
We're getting close to the fifth anniversary of the landings of Spirit and Opportunity, but was we approach that milestone, we're passing another. I've been told that as of yesterday, Spirit and Opportunity have operated on Mars for a combined length of time that is longer than the combined number of sols that the twin Viking landers operated.
The period of Mars solar conjunction has just begun, which means that a host of scientists and engineers whose day jobs entail interaction with the five active Mars spacecraft are getting a five-week break from the daily grind of operations.
After taking a "direct hit" from one of Mars' notorious dust storms last weekend, Spirit phoned home today at 11 a.m. Pacific Standard Time, exactly like its ground team had asked it to do and members of the rover team at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) cheered. "She's talking!"
Another day, another drive: on sols 1,693 and 1,695 the Opportunity rover conducted two more lengthy drives to the south, totaling almost 200 meters. On the other side of the planet, Spirit is FINALLY in motion again.