The Mars Exploration Rovers have both encountered some truly challenging obstacles in recent days, but have also presented the team with some surprises, and continue to be in overall good health some 16 months after bouncing to a landing, and more than a year after completing their primary missions.
After more than a year of active-duty research, the Mars Exploration Rovers have caught 'second winds' -- in part because of their new, recently uploaded software and, in part -- however strange it may seem -- from the planet's notorious dust devils.
As Spirit rang in her new year at Gusev Crater on Mars Monday, NASA officials and mission team members celebrated the Mars Exploration Rovers first anniversary at an event that featured a press conference, storytelling session, and birthday party at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL).
The Mars Exploration Rovers are trudging ever onward through the dead of winter on the Red Planet dreaming, perhaps, if robots dream, of a white Christmas. But Spirit and Opportunity are robots after all and come this weekend "the poor little rovers will have to keep working, even on Christmas," MER Project Scientist Joy Crisp, of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), told The Planetary Society earlier today.
The Mars Exploration Rovers are roving ever on into new territories and deeper into the history books as they close in on the end of one full Earth year of active duty at their respective sites on Red Planet.
As winter gives way to spring on the Red Planet, the Mars Explorations Rovers are maintaining their 5-day a week work schedules and continuing to send surprises home to Earth. Despite a recurring 'ache' in one of her steering motors, Spirit is continuing her climb in the Columbia Hills toward a rock called Uchben, while her twin, Opportunity, is completing her work at Wopmay.
After nearly two weeks of sparse, infrequent communication, Spirit and Opportunity have survived winter solstice and resumed "reliable" contact with Earth and the Mars Exploration Rover team -- and NASA has extended funding for an additional six months of operations, as long as the little robot geologists keep working, space agency officials announced late Tuesday.
During the last four weeks, the Mars Exploration Rovers have braved the Martian winter to continue their geologic field work, sending home more evidence of past liquid water on the Red Planet and images of bizarre geologic formations the likes of which no one has seen before.
The twin rovers Spirit and Opportunity continue their trek across the varied surface of the Red Planet, climbing hills and descending into a crater. After a two-month journey of over 3 kilometers through rocky terrain, Spirit has now begun climbing the Columbia Hills, which were seen on the horizon in the early panoramas taken from the landing site. The rover is expected to spend much of its remaining life climbing the hills and analyzing their geological make-up. Meanwhile, on the other side of the planet, Opportunity is carefully descending into the stadium-sized depression dubbed "Endurance Crater" by the MER team. The rocky formations revealed on the slopes of the crater promise to provide some of the richest sources for studying the geological history of Mars.
The Mars Exploration Rovers are each entering new chapters in their extended missions that are already returning more intriguing discoveries, but they are both beginning to slow down now as the Martian winter closes in on them.
During the last three weeks, the Mars Exploration Rovers have been continuing to rove and explore their respective regions of Mars. Spirit has continued her trek to the Columbia Hills in the Gusev Crater area of Mars, while on the other side of the planet, at Meridiani Planum; Opportunity has been investigating Endurance Crater.
As Spirit continued her journey to the Columbia Hills in Gusev Crater, Opportunity cruised into her extended mission at Meridiani Planum this week, marking the milestone of the rovers' Martian adventure -- full mission success.
This week, the Mars Exploration Rovers team successfully installed the new flight software it was uploading to Spirit and Opportunity last weekend. Now, the rovers have enhanced capabilities that should make their remaining Martian sols even safe and more productive, announced Jan Chodas, flight software manager, at the weekly news briefing at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL).