Emily LakdawallaApr 03, 2012

An update on Opportunity, and a plea for some volunteer desktop publishing help

A. J. S. Rayl has just posted her monthly update on the goings-on at Meridiani planum, noting that the update recaps the 99th month of the Mars Exploration Rover mission. There's a lot of detail on how the radio-tracking campaign is going. While she's not driving, Opportunity's acting like a lander, with radio antennas on Earth performing Doppler tracking to allow very fine measurement of Mars' orbital motion. That work is going well, with the data likely to improve our estimate of Mars' orbital precession rate by a factor of 2. But the most exciting (in my opinion) result of a radio tracking campaign -- a determination of the nutation rate, which would, in turn, help determine whether Mars has a liquid outer core or not -- will not be achievable with only one winter's radio tracking data. Also, the Mössbauer spectrometer, which is already weak because its radioactive cobalt source has decayed through 12 half-lives to much less than a thousandth of its original strength, is having some electronics issues. There's also some interesting troubleshooting of a strange recent motion of Opportunity's left-front wheel.

Simulated view of Opportunity at Greeley Haven
Simulated view of Opportunity at Greeley Haven A simulated view of Opportunity embedded in a real Navcam panorama shows the rover in her (approximate) winter parked position at Greeley Haven, which is located on the northern end of Cape York.Image: NASA / JPL-Caltech / Michael Howard

You will not find more detail on the day-to-day operations of Opportunity anywhere; Rayl's reports are incredibly thorough, filled with explanations straight from the mouths of the scientists and engineers performing the mission. We're proud to host that archive going back through 99 months of rover operations. But there's a looming problem. In about a month, our website is going to be completely overhauled. It will be great, featuring a much, much better organization and indexing of the blog, among other things. I'm working now on the gargantuan task of migrating my blog archives, but I can't do Rayl's stories too, and in any case I don't think that bringing them over to the new site as they are would be the most useful way to archive them. Instead, we want to gather them all into a single resource -- a microsite or a set of PDF documents -- that would be more readily indexable and searchable. The Planetary Society can still host them; we just don't have time to convert them from their old format.

It's a big task, though; there may be close to 150 articles, and they can run upwards of 10,000 words apiece. (Her most recent update, on a single rover that was parked for the whole month, was more than 7,000 words.) The whole collection is longer than À la recherche du temps perdu (the Guinness record holder for the longest novel, a work that I must admit I actually only know about because of Monty Python).

But I know there are a lot of rover fans out there. I would love to delegate this task to a devoted rover fan, or group of fans, who do not want to see this resource disappear from the Web. The goal would not be to have the whole thing ready by the end of April, when our new site goes live, but rather to have settled on a plan for how to archive them, and to have started with the most recent few reports. I have some ideas for how this might work but would be delighted for a friend of the Society to just take this project and run with it. Please contact me (blog at planetary dot org) if you have serious time to help keep this unique resource available on the Web!

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