Mars Exploration Rover B “Opportunity” has blown away all predictions for longevity. I mean, NASA/JPL/APL always design their spacecraft to last as long as possible within budget constraints, but even by their own high standards, this thing has lasted a long, long time. And just a few days ago, it saw something nobody thought it ever would — it’s 5,000th Martian sunrise.
And it finally took its first selfie. 😉 Well, not exactly the first, since it has taken pictures from its mast before. But this was the first selfie taken using Opportunity’s robot art, similarly to how Curiosity regularly takes selfies. Opportunity’s arm doesn’t have as good of a camera; it’s really meant for up-close microscopic images. But it was a nice way of commemorating Sol 5,000:
The rover that doesn’t know how to quit, Mars Exploration Rover B “Opportunity” has just departed “Cape Tribulation”, a feature on the rim of Endeavour Crater on Mars. It’s spent the last 30 months at this location, conserving power over the Martian winter (since unlike Curiosity, it’s solar powered), and now it’s ready to move on. The next destination is a nearby valley in the huge crater’s rim, called “Perseverance Valley”. It’s a good name for a valley soon to be explored by a spacecraft 13 years into its 3-month mission. 😉 Opportunity will begin by studying the top of the valley, then move down it in the sort of pattern you’d expect a geologist to take while studying erosion and deposits that may explain how the valley was formed.
Here’s a final full-color panoramic look at Cape Tribulation:
First off, Blue Origins launched their fully reusable New Shepherd vehicle a third time. The suborbital spaceflight was a complete success, moving them closer to a point where they can begin selling flights.
And then I have a cool Opportunity to pic to share, right after yesterday’s cool pic. The rover spotted a bit of Martian weather: a dust devil! This picture also does a great job of highlighting the challenging terrain the rover has been contending with. It’s fortunately nice and smooth, but anything but level.
Thirteen years into its 90 day mission, Opportunity is still the rover that wouldn’t die. (Not that it’s been easy; mission controllers have worked very hard to nurse it along.) So what’s it up to now? Well, it’s trying to climb the steepest incline it’s ever attempted, in hopes of getting close enough to put its sensor arm onto a bit of rock on the top of a ridge nicknamed Knudsen Ridge in Marathon Valley in Endeavour Crater. The rock looked very intriguingly like it might give more clues to Mars’ hydrological history, which is of course the primary mission of the Opportunity rover. Knowing that the terrain would badly challenge the robot, mission controllers commanded enough wheel turns to advance it 20 meters if they were on level terrain; due to the steep incline (32 degrees!), the wheels slipped instead and they only traveled about nine centimeters. So instead, they’ve gone back down the slope and moved along to another interesting outcrop.
It really is the rover that won’t give up. 😉
The rover did return this rather interesting view during one of its self-inspection photo sessions — it appears all the juddering and jolting that would’ve happened during that unsuccessful climb dislodged the fine dust that covers the rover. Maybe this could become a new way of shaking off the dust?
After the successful upload of new software to allow Opportunity to resume use of its onboard flash memory (NVRAM), the rover was able to start rolling again and has now passed the marathon milestone of 26.219 miles, by about ten and a half feet. Congratulations, Opportunity!
Opportunity, still trucking over a decade into its 90 day mission, hobbled by NVRAM that isn’t holding some of its data overnight and a bum wheel that it’s forced to drag while driving backwards, is about to reach a new milestone. It will shortly become the first rover to complete a marathon (26.219 miles or 42.195 kilometers). In honor of this achievement, Oppy’s current target has been dubbed Marathon Valley. It will hit the marathon mark in about 220 yards. The going is slow, hampered as Opportunity is with its technical problems, but there’s really no reason not to expect it to complete the challenge.
The current marathon record for a human stands at a staggering 2 hours, 02 minutes, and 57 seconds, held by Kenyan runner Dennis Kimetto. Most runners take considerably longer to complete a marathon, and merely finishing is considered a major accomplishment. To date, there is no record for the marathon as completed by an extra-planetary unmanned rover, because so far none has completed a marathon. But once Oppy gets there, it will set the record. It’s not clear when Oppy will set this record; currently, mission controllers are debating on the safest route forward as there is a rather steep outcrop in front of the rover. They may opt to go around it. But if it set the record today, the time to beat would be 3930 Martian sols, or 3,825 Earth days (10 years, 173 days).