I'm back from two weeks' vacation, so it's time to catch up on the status of all our intrepid planetary missions, from Akatsuki to the Voyagers and hitting the Moon, Mars, asteroids, comets, and Saturn in between.
After three weeks of being in a communications blackout on the other side of the Sun during the Earth-Mars solar conjunction, Opportunity phoned home, reporting that she is healthy and ready to continue her mission.
Opportunity spent a mostly merry month of May on Mars touring Spirit of St. Louis Crater, stopping at science targets named in honor of Charles Lindbergh and the incredible flight he took 88 years ago.
After investigating some flat, light and dark toned rocks around Spirit of St. Louis Crater in April, Opportunity chalked up another milestone achievement – the 4000th sol or Martian day of surface operations.
MER mission ops team members joined other engineers and scientists, some who previously worked on the MER mission, to take on the challenge of a relay marathon to celebrate Opportunity's milestone achievement.
On March 24, 2015, after spending several weeks investigating some new rock types along the western rim of Endeavour Crater, Opportunity roved past 42.2 kilometers (26.2 miles) and put the first off-Earth marathon in her rear view mirror, driving the Mars Exploration Rovers mission back into the space history books.
From the discovery of a new rock type to a successful flight software upload that should enable the robot field geologist to regain her long-term, flash memory, Opportunity and her team delivered what turned out to be a hugely productive and memorable 133rd month on the Red Planet.
On January 24th, something wonderful happened on Mars. Opportunity completed her 11th year of exploring the surface of the Red Planet! The veteran rover couldn't exactly go to Disneyland to celebrate this amazing achievement, so she did what she loves to do – roved on.
With a wonder year of discoveries, historic feats, and bummers in the rear view mirror – and plenty of mettle to continue exploring – Opportunity ended 2014 quietly working in a temporary back-up mode, as her colleagues on Earth ramped up for the mission's marathon adventure to come in 2015.
Last month, the Earth's longest-lived and most traveled robot on another planet drove into a network of fractures the likes of which the scientists had never seen before on Mars and wound up working there through the end of the month – and then something not completely unexpected happened.
As winds whirled and converged to the west of Endeavour Crater, Opportunity's power dropped dramatically in October, but the Mars Exploration Rover (MER) pressed on. By month's end, the robot field geologist had completed her assignments – including capturing the first close-in shot of a comet from the surface of the Red Planet – and was roving onward through the darkness, driving the mission into the 130th month of what started out more than 10-and-a-half years ago to be a 3-month tour.