Hey, What Are Spirit and Opportunity Up to These Days?

Article written: 26 Aug , 2008
Updated: 24 Dec , 2015
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With the Phoenix lander busily working away on Mars and grabbing the recent headlines, we haven’t heard much from the other two robots on the Red Planet, the Mars Exploration Rovers, Spirit and Opportunity. Spirit has been hunkered down, trying to survive the harshest weeks of southern Martian winter. She’s waiting for the sun’s rays to get a little stronger before moving on, but has been taking images of her spot in the Home Plate area of Gusev Crater to create the panorama, shown here. Opportunity is now getting ready to head ’em up and move ’em out of Victoria Crater, where she’s been for nearly a year. So, what’s coming up for the two Energizer Bunny-like, long-lasting rovers?

“Both rovers show signs of aging, but they are both still capable of exciting exploration and scientific discovery,” said JPL’s John Callas, project manager for Spirit and Opportunity.

The team’s plan for future months is to drive Spirit south of Home Plate to an area where the rover last year found some bright, silica-rich soil. This could be possible evidence of effects of hot water.
Click here for an extra large version of Spirit’s panorama.

Opportunity will soon be on to new adventures.

“We’ve done everything we entered Victoria Crater to do and more,” said Bruce Banerdt, of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. Banerdt is project scientist for the two rovers. Opportunity is heading back out to the Red Planet’s surrounding plains and check out some loose cobbles, or rocks that it drove by nearly a year ago before descending into the large Victoria crater to examine exposed ancient rock layers. But now that survey is complete.

Some of the cobbles that the rover will look at are approximately fist-size and larger. They were thrown long distances from impacts on Mars surface, and are interesting in that they might provide information about Mars’ subsurface varying areas.

Image from Opportunity's Pancam from Sol 1628.  Image: NASA/JPL/Cornell

Image from Opportunity's Pancam from Sol 1628. Image: NASA/JPL/Cornell


“Our experience tells us there’s lots of diversity among the cobbles,” said Scott McLennan of the State University of New York, Stony Brook. McLennan is a long-term planning leader for the rover science team. “We want to get a better characterization of them. A statistical sampling from examining more of them will be important for understanding the geology of the area.”

Opportunity entered Victoria Crater on Sept. 11, 2007, after a year of scouting from the rim. Once inside, the rover drove close to the base of a cliff called “Cape Verde,” part of the crater rim, to capture detailed images of a stack of layers 6 meters (20 feet) tall. The information Opportunity has returned about the layers in Victoria suggest the sediments were deposited by wind and then altered by groundwater.

“The patterns broadly resemble what we saw at the smaller craters Opportunity explored earlier,” McLennan said. “By looking deeper into the layering, we are looking farther back in time.” The crater stretches approximately 800 meters (half a mile) in diameter and is deeper than any other seen by Opportunity.

Engineers are programming Opportunity to climb out of the crater at the same place it entered. A spike in electric current drawn by the rover’s left front wheel last month quickly settled discussions about whether to keep trying to edge even closer to the base of Cape Verde on a steep slope. The spike resembled one seen on Spirit when that rover lost the use of its right front wheel in 2006. Opportunity’s six wheels are all still working after 10 times more use than they were designed to perform, but the team took the spike in current as a reminder that one could quit.

“If Opportunity were driving with only five wheels, like Spirit, it probably would never get out of Victoria Crater,” said JPL’s Bill Nelson, a rover mission manager. “We also know from experience with Spirit that if Opportunity were to lose the use of a wheel after it is out on the level ground, mobility should not be a problem.”

Opportunity now drives with its robotic arm out of the stowed position. A shoulder motor has degraded over the years to the point where the rover team chose not to risk having it stop working while the arm is stowed on a hook. If the motor were to stop working with the arm unstowed, the arm would remain usable.

Source: JPL Press Release


10 Responses

  1. Don Alexander says

    Wow!!

    Although I do wonder what Opportunity’s long-time goal will now be. Victoria Crater is like the biggest and baddest around, and one must ask… “Where next to conquer?”

  2. Tom says

    …and here I thought Victoria would be where Opportunity dies.
    Go little rover go!! 🙂

    T.

  3. tacitus says

    There are rocks lying on the plain around Victoria Crater that they want to get a closer look. They believe they will find more meteorites and ejecta from other craters and want to take a bigger sample that what they have found so far.

    But unless Oppy survives for many more years (unlikely) there isn’t anywhere close enough that is the equal of the photogenic Victoria crater. But there is still plenty of useful science to do on the plains, and given the cost of sending probes to Mars, squeezing every last drop of science out of the rovers that are already there is an eminently sensible thing to do.

  4. alandee says

    They are amazing pieces of engineering without a doubt. As is ground control in their continual tweaking and decision making.
    I can’t help but think we should have already sent up Gen II models though, with mobile Phoenix type labs on board .. but lots of them, live streaming HD video, core sampling bores, releasable remote control derrigibles, and a spare wheel or two for Opportunity and Spirit .. a mobile planetside assist ..
    At this stage when these two little troopers do drop off the perch, and Phoenix has run out of bays or shorted out .. it’s back to MRO, and that’s not very hands on .. What’s next in the wings for Mars ?

  5. marcellus says

    Send Spirit and Opportunity across Mars to link up with each other.

    What an epic journey that would be!

  6. Don Alexander says

    Next mission up should be the Mars Science Laboratory, a large (think small car, not just golf cart) rover. Promises to be very interesting!!

    But, of course, launch in 2009, arrival sometime 2010…

  7. Sili says

    Or up North to lay themselves to rest under the wings of Phoenix.

    If for some bizarre reason we do ever find ourselves on Mars, I sincerely hope that these two tough little machines are accommodated in some sort of museum with all due reverence. They truly deserve it (or we do, if you’re uncomfortable anthropomorphising robotic rovers).

  8. robbb says

    how strange it would be to stand on mars and spy that dirty brown sky.

  9. Cameron says

    Man, if I make a lot, I could make a rover trip to Mars. The spacecraft will travel about 20 percent the speed of light, so it would reach Mars in about a month or so. The technology would be similar to the stuff on Discovery Channel’s Alien Planet, getting rid of the Horus probes and their drop ships. However, the rovers will take their place, and a lander will be landed in a cone with airbags on it. I’ll explain more later.

  10. Logan says

    Electric Golf Cart are great and would love to own one. This is wonderful information which I will definitely use. Good job.

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