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."
Way to go, Spirit! The last two drives for the five-wheeled rover have taken it a total of about 40 meters west, traveling around the north edge of Home Plate. If I'm not mistaken, that's more than Spirit has driven in the last 400 sols combined.
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.
Rather than try to interpret what's going on, I'm just going to repost in full a "rover mission status report" (always an ominous subject heading) I just received from the JPL media relations office. I'll post updates when any are available.
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.
Hallelujah! For the first time in almost an Earth year, amateur mars mapper Eduardo Tesheiner is able to scratch a tiny little line on his map of the Mars Exploration Rover Spirit's peregrinations across Gusev Crater.
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.
I am greatly relieved to report that Spirit did talk to Earth as ordered today, indicating that the rover's power situation did not get so bad that a "low power fault" was triggered. The rover's still following instructions, and is still with us, though the power situation is still critical.
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!"
There was a worrying update posted on the JPL website for Spirit today: an early-season dust storm has darkened its skies enough that its solar panels produced only 89 watt-hours of power yesterday, sol 1,725. Neither rover has ever, ever seen power production levels that low, not even during last year's massive dust storm.
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.