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:
The Mars Science Laboratory “Curiosity” is an amazing vehicle in an exceptionally hostile environment, and it seems it is having some issues with its drill. The drill itself is working fine, but the motor that extends the drill bit forward to touch the rock face is not cooperating. As a consequence, Curiosity is on non-drilling duties while the JPL team analyzes the problem and decides what to try next. Fortunately, it has a wealth of other instrumentation, so Curiosity has been far from idle. Here’s one of the pictures it took while on its “drilling hiatus”:
“Yutu”, the Jade Rabbit rover, delivered to the Moon by the Chang’e 3 lander, the first lunar lander sent by any nation other than the USA or the USSR and the first sent by anyone at all since 1976, has now officially ended its mission. The little rover survived a harrowing failure early on, but recovered (albeit without the ability to move anymore) and endured repeated long lunar nights (lasting almost half a month). But now, after an incredible 31 months, the rover can no longer survive. It’s well past its primary mission, which was only slated for three months. I haven’t been able to find out whether Jade Rabbit is succumbing to the environment or to a lack of funding — ten times past the original mission length, it’s often hard for any space agency to justify continued funding — but either way, it’s dang impressive. The mission team signed off by posting one final message on behalf of Jade Rabbit to Weibo: “I’m a rabbit that has seen the most stars!”
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).
UPDATE: Some sources are now saying Yutu has actually responded to a signal! So maybe it’s not dead after all. 😉
The sun has now risen on Mare Imbrium, and the Yutu rover remains silent. Chang’e 3, the lander, seems to have come through the night just fine, but Yutu will roll no further. The first sign of trouble came two weeks ago, when preparing to hibernate through its second lunar night. Like the two Lunokhods before it, Yutu has a “lid” so that it can let its electronics radiate heat away and not cook themselves in the day, but close up and keep them warm during the long night. Two weeks ago, the lid would not close, with engineers speculating that some sort of obstruction was preventing it from closing — a bit of dust or lunar debris kicked up by the wheels, perhaps. A fluke. That, unfortunately, can happen with robotic spacecraft. Too much is beyond your control. So alas, we must bid farewell to the little rover.
The Daily Show had a lovely farewell to the rover recently, after the news of the stuck lid broke. Patrick Stewart gives a hilarious and touching performance as Yutu:
Better quality available at Comedy Central: Who Froze Jade Rabbit?
Ten years ago today, the Spirit rover landed on Mars, kicking off 10 consecutive years (and counting) of NASA rovers on Mars. Spirit would go on to travel 4.3 miles in a mission that went way past the original nominal 90 sol* mission, finally perishing after becoming trapped in unstable soil in a poor position for outlasting the Martian winter. Last contact was on Sol 2,623. But Spirit wasn’t alone on Mars; its twin rover, Opportunity, landed January 25 and is still rolling today. And, of course, the Curiosity rover has since arrived on Mars as well, and it is entirely plausible that there will be a continuous rover presence on Mars beyond even the Curiosity mission — if the luck holds out. 😉
So, here’s to ten continuous years of Martian cruising!
* 1 sol = 1 Martian day, or 1.03 Earth days
The Chinese lunar lander Chang’e 3 and rover Yutu is being tucked in for the long lunar night; they will slumber for two weeks, kept warm by Pu-238 radioisotope heaters. They will be reawakened January 12 when the sun rises again.
In other news, LADEE did not detect any disruption in the lunar atmosphere from Chang’e 3’s landing. The were expecting significant disruption, so this is an interesting and useful result — it also means Chang’e 3 won’t mess up LADEE’s mission after all, which is a relief. 😉
LADEE Project Scientist Update: Initial Observations of Chang’e 3 Landing