Cheers erupted in the Von Karman auditorium at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory early Thursday morning as a squiggly green line on a graph developed a crisp, tall peak, signifying that the Cassini spacecraft was calling home after surviving its first plunge between Saturn and its ring system.
The four-stop dune science campaign offered the engineers some time to continue troubleshooting the drill without any pressure to use it for science. They scooped sand at a site called Ogunquit Beach but couldn't complete the planned sample activity because of new developments in the drill inquiry. The rover has now headed onward toward Vera Rubin Ridge.
Since my last update, the Curiosity mission has developed a better understanding of the problem that prevented them from drilling at Precipice, but its intermittent nature has slowed the development of a workable solution that will allow them to use the drill again. In the meantime, the rover has driven onward, making good use of its other instruments.
Four years ago, I announced that I was writing a book about Curiosity, describing the mission from its inception through its nominal mission. I am still not done, so am taking a three-month break from other work -- including this blog -- in order to focus and finish. I'm seeking scientists and engineers to serve as guest bloggers.
What's ahead for our intrepid space explorers in 2017? It'll be the end of Cassini, but not before the mission performs great science close to the rings. OSIRIS-REx will fly by Earth, and Chang'e 5 will launch to the Moon, as a host of other spacecraft continue their ongoing missions.