As New Year's Eve moved from time zone to time zone across planet Earth, the Mars Exploration Rover (MER) team looked to 2012 and wrapping its eighth Earth year of exploring, while up on the Red Planet Opportunity settled into the "saddle" at Greeley Haven preparing for the onslaught of its fifth Martian winter.
Since leaving the plains of Meridiani, pulling up to Endeavour Crater and checking out its first rock last month, Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity has wasted no time in getting the "new mission" underway.
More than seven and a half years after landing, Opportunity arrived at its long-anticipated destination, the rim of Endeavour Crater, and in less than three weeks found something strange enough to launch a new Martian mystery.
The Mars Exploration Rover (MER) mission roves back into the exploration spotlight this month as Opportunity arrives at the rim of Endeavour Crater, a destination that wasn't even an impossible dream when the rover landed back in January 2004.
Opportunity seemed to sail with the wind behind her back toward the western rim of Endeavour Crater this month as the Mars Exploration Rover team shifted gears in preparation for a whole new adventure, taking time out only to bid a final farewell both privately and publicly to Spirit.
Opportunity 'burned up' the Meridiani Plains in June as it raced toward its much-anticipated next destination and the Mars Exploration Rover (MER) mission cruised into the 90th month of what was originally to have been a 90-day tour.
The Mars Exploration mission suffered the loss of Spirit and shifted to one-rover operations in May, but Opportunity carried on, blasting across the plains of Meridiani to within 2 miles (3.5 kilometers) of its next major destination and discovery.
The intensified effort to recover Mars Exploration Rover (MER) Spirit came to an end early Wednesday morning Pacific time and NASA has now transitioned the mission to a single-rover operation focused on Spirit's still-active twin, Opportunity.
As Opportunity drove her little robot heart out, breaking the 28-kilometer mark on her odometer, and driving the longest backward drive ever, April proved to be another month of exhilarating highs for the Mars Exploration Rover mission and one extended low with only silence from Spirit, despite intensified efforts by her Earth crew to establish contact.
The Mars Exploration Rover mission experienced a month of highs tempered by one haunting low as it neared completion of its 87th month of a three-month tour this month. While Opportunity wrapped up its work at the youngest, freshest crater the rovers have explored to date, Spirit remained silent as the point of maximum sunshine for the Martian year came and went, further dimming once high hopes that the rover would phone home and rove on as summer settled on the southern hemisphere of Mars.
The Mars Exploration Rover (MER) mission emerged from its third solar conjunction this month and, as March roars in, is embarking on its 86th month on the Red Planet. While Opportunity roved away from a surface target it had been studying at Santa Maria Crater and on to an intriguing blue boulder, JPL engineers on Earth stepped up their efforts to recover Spirit, which has been silent, ostensibly in hibernation mode, since late March, nearly one year ago.
Seven years ago this month, Spirit bounced down onto the surface of the Red Planet, rolled to a stop upright, and beeped home, ready to roll. Three weeks later, Opportunity not only bounced down safely and right into a small crater, but opened its "eyes" to see what the Mars Exploration Rovers had been sent to find signs that water had once flowed there.