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.
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.
Victoria crater, the site of a Mars year's worth of study, is now far over the horizon, as Opportunity has lately completed a series of very long drives. Opportunity is once again sailing the sand seas of Meridiani Planum.
Last week, the Mars Odyssey team announced that their mission is being extended another two years. This mission extension will be slightly different from previous mission phases due to a planned change in the spacecraft's orbit.
It's been way, way, way too long since the view from either rover's cameras has changed very much. So I hope you'll join me in a shout of "woo hoo!" or perhaps "yippee!" as I show you the latest view from Opportunity, from sol 1,666, as automatically composed in Mike Howard's Midnight Mars Browser software.
Mars Exploration Rover principal investigator Steve Squyres announced on National Public Radio's Science Friday show the next goal for Opportunity, and it's a long, long, long way away: a huge crater about 12 kilometers southeast of its current location, which the team is referring to internally as "Endeavour."