We're getting close to the fifth anniversary of the landings of Spirit and Opportunity, but was we approach that milestone, we're passing another. I've been told that as of yesterday, Spirit and Opportunity have operated on Mars for a combined length of time that is longer than the combined number of sols that the twin Viking landers operated.
The period of Mars solar conjunction has just begun, which means that a host of scientists and engineers whose day jobs entail interaction with the five active Mars spacecraft are getting a five-week break from the daily grind of operations.
I am greatly relieved to report that Spirit did talk to Earth as ordered today, indicating that the rover's power situation did not get so bad that a "low power fault" was triggered. The rover's still following instructions, and is still with us, though the power situation is still critical.
There was a worrying update posted on the JPL website for Spirit today: an early-season dust storm has darkened its skies enough that its solar panels produced only 89 watt-hours of power yesterday, sol 1,725. Neither rover has ever, ever seen power production levels that low, not even during last year's massive dust storm.
Another day, another drive: on sols 1,693 and 1,695 the Opportunity rover conducted two more lengthy drives to the south, totaling almost 200 meters. On the other side of the planet, Spirit is FINALLY in motion again.
Victoria crater, the site of a Mars year's worth of study, is now far over the horizon, as Opportunity has lately completed a series of very long drives. Opportunity is once again sailing the sand seas of Meridiani Planum.
It's been way, way, way too long since the view from either rover's cameras has changed very much. So I hope you'll join me in a shout of "woo hoo!" or perhaps "yippee!" as I show you the latest view from Opportunity, from sol 1,666, as automatically composed in Mike Howard's Midnight Mars Browser software.
Mars Exploration Rover principal investigator Steve Squyres announced on National Public Radio's Science Friday show the next goal for Opportunity, and it's a long, long, long way away: a huge crater about 12 kilometers southeast of its current location, which the team is referring to internally as "Endeavour."