The Mars Exploration Rovers celebrated their fourth birthdays and began their fifth year of exploring this month -- and for the first time since the big dust storm hit the headlines last summer, Spirit and Opportunity made the news. It wasn't for the notable exploration or engineering milestone they had just achieved or the discoveries they've helped scientists make about a once very different Mars. It was because of an alleged "Bigfoot" sighting.
With fall slowly passing in the southern hemisphere of Mars and winter looming on the horizon, the Mars Exploration Rovers carried on with business as usual in February, working as much as possible before the reduced sunlight and beyond-frigid temperatures of the dreaded season set in.
Brandishing the trademark resilience that has endeared them to millions of people around the world, the Mars Exploration Rovers kept their robotic noses to the grindstone through March, soldiering on into their third Martian winter with slightly more power than predictions anticipated and enough proven mettle to dodge a budgetary pothole on Earth that might have taken one of them out of action. Now, 50 months after Spirit defied the odds and bounced safely to an upright landing and Opportunity followed with the impossible scoring of a 300-million-mile hole-in-one, the twin robot field geologists are driving the MER mission into new territory once again.
With winter settling in on the southern hemisphere of the Red Planet, the Mars Exploration Rovers (MERs) spent April working on their respective science campaigns and hunkering down in brutally chilly nights that are seeing temperatures drop to around -95 degree Celsius. As the month comes to an end at Gusev Crater and Meridiani Planum, there is good news and there is bad news.
As Phoenix commanded the headlines with its flawless touchdown in the arctic region of the Red Planet this past month, the Mars Exploration Rovers (MERs) forged onward slowly, quietly and out of the spotlight, heading into the depths of their third Martian winter. Spirit persevered and held its own in terms of energy, while Opportunity, after six weeks of being stopped in its tracks with a shoulder joint injury, roved once more.
After cruising through winter solstice in late June, the Mars Exploration Rovers (MERs) roved into July taking every advantage of a winter that is by all appearances now proving to be rather mild for the Red Planet. At Gusev Crater, Spirit managed to maintain its power level and get back to doing a little bit of science, while on the other side of the planet, at Meridiani Planum, Opportunity finished photographing Cape Verde and began to chart its course back to Duck Bay where it will exit Victoria Crater.
Clear skies and a warming Sun brightened winter in the southern hemisphere of the Red Planet, giving the Mars Exploration Rovers, appropriately enough, an august month. Opportunity packed up, left Cape Verde in the dust, and made headlines when it roved out of Victoria Crater last Thursday. On the other side of the planet, Spirit picked up the pace of photographing its surroundings for its next big, 360-degree, full color panorama.
It's been a September to remember for the Mars Exploration Rovers with Spirit producing enough power to return to its science assignments on a daily basis and Opportunity commanding the spotlight once again as it embarked on a long journey toward a new, humongous crater and one of the most ambitious adventures undertaken on the mission.
Spring is still off a ways on the horizon in the Red Planet's southern hemisphere, but the solar-powered Mars Exploration Rovers seemed to shake off their third Martian winter this month, as they roved into new phases and looked to new destinations on their overland expeditions of Gusev Crater and Meridiani Planum. In the process, Spirit and Opportunity both chalked up notable achievements in October, adding to their already long list of accomplishments accrued as the world's first long-lived roving robot field geologists.
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!"
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.
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