Stories tagged opportunity


SpiritCourtesy xkcd
The current Mars rovers are, not surprisingly, still on Mars. The surprising bit is that one, Opportunity, is still operating, nearly seven years after landing. The other, Spirit, is stuck, possibly in a hibernation mode, and could "wake up" during the Martian summer solstice , this coming March. It’s pretty incredible that these rovers operated so long after they landed – in Opportunity's case 20 times longer and counting.

And, orbiting above the rovers is the Odyssey spacecraft, which last week broke the record for longest-working spacecraft at Mars. The previous record was set by NASA's Mars Global Surveyor, which orbited Mars from 1997 to 2006.

And amidst all this history, a little under a year from now, the Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity will be launched and is scheduled to land in August 2012. Curiosity is also a rover, but is larger than either Opportunity or Spirit. Its mission is to assess whether Mars ever was, or is still today, an environment able to support microbial life.


Mars Rovers
Mars RoversCourtesy NASA/JPL-Caltech
About this time last year it was springtime on Mars. The two rovers had survived winter but a large, planet wide dust storm threatened to deplete their source of energy. To survive, both rovers were put into survival mode for several months. The both came through OK but because their solar panels are coated with dust, they do not have the energy they used to. Another winter is now approaching so both Rovers need to find a spot to maximize their solar gain.

Preparing for a long Mars winter

Spirit spent last winter on the sunny side of a hill called "Winter Haven" (click to see panorama) This winter Spirit is heading north toward an extra steep slope on "Home Plate". Right now it is stuck in what appears to be loose soil.

Rovers are showing their age

Spirit is having trouble getting around because one of its wheels doesn't work. It needs to go backwards, dragging its bad front wheel. Opportunity has a wheel that cannot steer. Its instrument arm is arthritic due to a bad motor in its shoulder. Opportunity is also blind in its infrared "eye" because of too much dirt on its lens. Both rovers are having problems with their grinding tools (RAT).

Mars rover's mission extended again

The twin rovers landed on the surface of Mars in January, 2004. Mission planners expected that it would only take a few months before dust coated the rovers' solar panels so thickly that they wouldn't be able to generate power any more. But the Martian weather had a trick; dust devils and wind gusts came by often enough to keep the solar panels relatively clear of dust. Without the loss of power looming, the rovers have been able to keep going, and going, and going. UniverseToday

Catch up on news about the Mars Rovers

If you have a high speed internet connection I recommend viewing this video. I wonder if it will ever get back out?
NASA video explaining Opportunity's plunge into Victoria Crater.


Mars Global Surveyor: Image courtesy NASA/JPL-Caltech.
Mars Global Surveyor: Image courtesy NASA/JPL-Caltech.

Have you seen the trailer for the new Transformers movie? It has the story line of the Beagle 2 Mars rover being lost after landing on Mars and the implication is that an evil Decepticon destroys it as, “the only warning we will ever get.”

While I doubt that transforming Lamborghini’s are the cause, a space probe orbiting Mars has recently gone missing. The Mars Global Surveyor (MGS), launched on November 7, 1996, is one of several probes currently studying Mars. (The others include the orbiters Mars Odyssey, Mars Express, and Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter; and the rovers Spirit and Opportunity.) The original mission of the MGS was scheduled to last only about two years, but NASA has repeatedly extended the mission making the MGS the longest operating spacecraft ever sent to Mars. The MGS was launched in part to replace the Mars Observer, which disappeared in 1993 before reaching Mars (again, probably not Decepticons). Most of the Mars Observer’s instruments were rebuilt and installed on the MGS.
It has gathered more information on the Red Planet than all previous missions combined, all in all the spacecraft has been a tremendously successful workhorse.

The mission was most recently extended on October 1, however, early this month problems began to arise. On November 2 the spacecraft was sent commands for a routine moving of its solar panels. The spacecraft reported that the motor responsible for moving one of the panels had problems and had as a result switched to backup systems. While this is how the spacecraft is programmed to respond, no transmissions from the spacecraft were received for two days. On November 5 several transmissions were received that indicated the spacecraft had entered a “safe” mode, a pre-programmed state of minimal activity. After receiving no transmissions from the spacecraft on November 6 NASA engineers figured the spacecraft had followed further safety protocols when it determines a solar panel is stuck which result in turning the spacecraft so the panels face the sun, which result in making successful transmissions to Earth difficult. This past Monday NASA had hoped to get an image of the MGS from the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, but was unsuccessful. Yesterday NASA engineers sent a signal to the MGS that requested that it turn on a beacon on one of the two Mars rovers on the surface. Unfortunately, the Opportunity Rover did not get a signal from the MRS yesterday, but NASA will try again today. If that fails, NASA will continue to attempt to contract the MGS through the end of the year, but it may be that the mission of the Mars Global Surveyor may finally have come to an end.
One of the last images from Mars Global Surveyor?: Clouds and the Martian north polar cap are seen in this mosaic of images from the Mars Orbiter Camera onboard the Mars Global Surveyor.  Image courtesy NASA/JPL/Malin Space Science Systems.
One of the last images from Mars Global Surveyor?: Clouds and the Martian north polar cap are seen in this mosaic of images from the Mars Orbiter Camera onboard the Mars Global Surveyor. Image courtesy NASA/JPL/Malin Space Science Systems.
One of the things the MGS did that I thought was interesting was take pictures of other orbiters and past landers on the Mars surface. The goal of these types of photos was to place the landers into a geological context, which helps scientists to understand the results these landers have returned. The Mars Global Surveyor had taken images of Viking Lander 1, Viking Lander 2, Mars Pathfinder, and both Mars Exploration Rovers, Opportunity and Spirit.

It is even possible that the Mars Global Surveyor has found the location of the Mars Polar Lander, which was a failed mission that lost contact with Earth in December of 1999.

Images from the Mars Global Surveyor are available for viewing on Science on a Sphere at the Science Musuem of Minnesota.


Victoria crater, Mars: credit: NASA/JPL/UA
Victoria crater, Mars: credit: NASA/JPL/UA

Springtime on Mars

Our two little Mars rover robots survived another winter on Mars. Spirit, who has a bad wheel, sat on a hillside facing the sun. Opportunity, who spent several weeks spinning its wheels in a sand dune, has now reached a huge crater named Victoria. Progress will be slow during October, though, because the Sun's position near our radio path causes interference.

Rovers goal is to find evidence of water

Within two months after landing on Mars in early 2004, Opportunity found geological evidence for a long-ago environment that was wet. Deeper sediments exposed in craters allow a look into Mar's past. The Eagle Crater, in which Opportunity landed in 2004, gave geologists about 0.5 metres of layered rock to study. Endurance Crater, where Opportunity spent about six months, provided 7 metres of layers. Victoria Crater appears to be at least 60 metres deep.

"This is a geologist's dream come true," says rover principal scientist Steve Squyres of Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, US. "Those layers of rock, if we can get to them, will tell us new stories about the environmental conditions long ago. New Scientist

Jim Bell of Cornell, lead scientist for the rovers' panoramic cameras says NASA plans to drive Opportunity from crater ridge to ridge, studying nearby cliffs across the intervening alcoves and looking for safe ways to drive the rover down.

"It's like going to the Grand Canyon and seeing what you can from several different overlooks before you walk down," Bell said.

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After being stuck in a sand ripple for the past five weeks, the Mars Rover Opportunity was finally able to free itself. Opportunity became stuck on April 26 on the way to study an impact crater.

Rover looking back at its tracks: Courtesy NASA/JPLCourtesy NASA/JPL

Now that it is free, Opportunity will take a closer look at the area it became stuck in to determine what made the sand ripple it was stuck in any different from the dozens of others it had driven over in the past with no incidence. Hopefully this will enable the rover to avoid being stuck again.

Meanwhile Spirit, Opportunity's twin, captured several images of dust devils as they cross the surface of a crater.

Opportunity and Spirit, have been exploring the Mars surface for over a year, far longer than the three month mission that was originally planned.