Wednesday, October 22, 2008

The Rover

NASA's wildly successful pair of rovers on Mars are now almost four years old.  They were designed to last 90 days and cover 100 meters.  Opportunity, the healthier of the two, has now clocked almost 13 kilometers.  For several years, I followed their daily progress via the web.  It was amazing to me that I could see detailed photos today of what the rovers did yesterday, on Mars.  They haven't been moving around as much lately, so I've only been checking once or twice a month.  Spirit, the first rover, is stuck due to low power and a bad wheel.  It should get back in buisiness when the Martian winter ends, but its not going far.  Opportunity has been studying the huge Victoria crater for the last two years.  But it is now about to set out on a new journey.  It will try for a 12 km drive to an ancient and enormous crater 22km in diameter.  The trip, if successful, will take at least one year, probably two.  There should be many interesting new sights along the way, so I expect to be checking progress daily again soon.

Opportunity's road to Victoria crater.  A sol is a Martian day, 25.5 Earth hours.  Opportunity is currently at around 1680 sols and hanging around the south end of Victoria for a while before setting off for crater Endevour.

Here is a remarkable false color photo of Victoria from the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter in early 2007.  Click on the image for a large version where you can see the rover.  The crater is 800m across.

This is a ground view of the crater in natural color.  The rover is looking north towards its position in the shot above.