The HiRISE instrument on Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter really is a spy camera in space. Check out this sequence of nine images from the HiRISE archives, which Doug Ellison pulled together into an animation covering more than a year of Spirit's mission. I really wanted to include the whole thing inline in this blog entry but I figured it would be cruel to post a 700k inline image for those of you who have to download my blog entries through the soda straw of a dialup connection.
NASA / JPL-Caltech / University of Arizona / Doug Ellison
Spirit explores Home Plate
More than a year of Spirit's examination of the feature in Gusev Crater known as Home Plate is chronicled in this animation of nine images from the HiRISE camera on Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. The images cover an area approximately 100 meters square. The geometry of Home Plate appears to shift from image to image because the orbiter often had to turn to one side or the other of its orbital track across Mars in order to view Spirit, so usually saw the raised topography of Home Plate from a point that was not directly over Spirit's head. However, some of the apparent shifts in features are also real shifts in the distribution of dust around Home Plate with shifting winds and seasons. The global dust storm of 2007 almost completely blocks the view of Spirit at one point during the animation.
Watch the animation a little while and just appreciate the coolness of being able to follow the rover's tracks around the crater. Then think to yourself about how that little moving speck and shadow is a human-built piece of hardware, more than a hundred million kilometers away from us, making a world that's inhospitable to our weak bodies into one we can actively roam, however slowly.
There was some bad funding news for Spirit and Opportunity today; in order to feed the hungry MSL mission's latest cost overrun, NASA has been forced to cut the Mars program in other places, including a $4 million cut to the rovers (and a similar chunk is being taken out of Odyssey's operations). $4 million may sound like peanuts to NASA but it's about a third of the mission's remaining budget for this year. Ryan Anderson has the details at the Martian Chronicles. The Planetary Society is working in Washington to advocate for the Mars program.