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Emily LakdawallaNovember 19, 2009

Encouraging motion on Spirit

UPDATE 7 p.m. PST: It seems there was a bit more downward motion than I detected. The JPL update says:

Spirit successfully completed the first step of its planned two-step motion on Sol 2090 (Nov. 19). After spinning the wheels for the equivalent of 2.5 meters (8.2 feet) in the forward direction, the center of the rover moved approximately 12 millimeters (0.5 inch) forward, 7 millimeters (0.3 inch) to the left and about 4 millimeters (0.2 inch) down. The rover tilt changed by about 0.1 degree. Small forward motion was observed with the non-operable right front wheel, and the left front wheel showed indications of climbing, despite the center of the rover moving downward. These motions are too small to establish any trends at this time. The drive plan had imposed a limit of 1 centimeter (0.4 inch) motion in any direction. The second step of the drive was not performed, because Spirit calculated it had exceeded that limit.

The update goes on to say that the downlink was better than expected, which means (my interpretation here) they'll be able to complete their analysis tomorrow. But I'm not sure if that means they'll be able to drive over the weekend; next drive may not be until Monday.



It really looks like the second attempt at driving Spirit out of the trap has had the hoped-for result: some forward progress (maybe about a centimeter), and no evidence for further downward sinking. The best views seem to be from the right-eye Hazard Avoidance Cameras, the belly-mounted fish-eye cameras that the rover uses to get a look at her own wheels. I'm going to give my preliminary analysis here -- I'll edit this post later with an update based upon JPL's end-of-day report.

Here's the view from the front (apologies for the large file size, but you need all the pixels to get a global view of what progress is being made).

Free Spirit progress as of sol 2090 (forward Hazcam view)

NASA / JPL-Caltech / animation by Emily Lakdawalla

Free Spirit progress as of sol 2090 (forward Hazcam view)
This animation consists of four frames from the right eye of Spirit's forward belly-mounted Hazard Avoidance Camera, or Hazcam. The Hazcam gives a fisheye view of the world in front of the rover encompassing the ground between its front wheels, all the way out to the horizon, with Husband Hill in the background. The animation begins on sol 2078, with Spirit bogged down in dust at Troy, and covers the extraction efforts up to sol 2090, when a drive moved Spirit forward slightly, and more importantly, caused the horizon to drop very slightly, meaning that the rover was tipping upward. A full-resolution version of this animation (3 MB) may be downloaded here.

And here's the rear view.

Free Spirit progress as of sol 2090 (rear Hazcam view)

NASA / JPL-Caltech / animation by Emily Lakdawalla

Free Spirit progress as of sol 2090 (rear Hazcam view)
This animation consists of four frames from the right eye of Spirit's rear belly-mounted Hazcam. A full-resolution version of this animation (2 MB) may be downloaded here.

Things I notice:

As a final gem, here's an animation of the Microscopic Imager views of the pointy rock underneath the rover, which has been some concern to rover drivers, as it's not obvious whether the rock is touching the belly of the rover. From this animation it appears that the pointy rock is receding into the distance. The images are very blurry because the Microscopic Imager was never intended to be used to view objects so far away from it -- it is very, very nearsighted. Rover driver Scott Maxwell mentioned to me a couple of days ago that these Free Spirit driving efforts mark the first time that Microscopic Imager photos have been included in the data stream with the high priority assigned to data products that are critical for mission planning.

Pointy Rock motion during Free Spirit efforts

NASA / JPL-Caltech / USGS / animation by Emily Lakdawalla

Pointy Rock motion during Free Spirit efforts
From sol 2088 to sol 2090, the "pointy rock" underneath the rover receded slightly into the distance.

All in all, it looks very, very encouraging, and I'm looking forward to the full report from the mission!

Read more: pretty pictures, amateur image processing, Spirit, mission status, Mars Exploration Rovers, spacecraft, Mars, animation

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Emily Lakdawalla

Senior Editor and Planetary Evangelist for The Planetary Society
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