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Daily Update - 12/23/04
Spirit Eats a Potato-Sized Rock
Spirit Status for sol 333-345
Spirit finished work at a rock called "Wishstone," then continued to make slow progress up "Husband Hill." Wishstone is different than any rock Spirit previously studied either on the plains or in the hills. Scientists and engineers used the miniature thermal emission spectrometer to find similar rocks for further study.
A potato-sized rock got caught in Spirits's right rear wheel on sol 339, causing the wheel to stall and ending the drive for that sol. Small moves of the wheel on subsequent sols dislodged the rock, but the rock remains close to the wheel, so the team is planning small, careful steps to move the wheel away from the rock so it will not become jammed again. Spirit remains in excellent health.
Atmospheric observations using the miniature thermal emission spectrometer, navigation camera, and panoramic camera continue on a daily basis.
On sol 333, Spirit used the brush of the rock abrasion tool brush to scrub a small section of Wishstone and took microscopic images of the spot. Spirit then placed the alpha particle X-ray spectrometer on the spot for collecting data overnight.
On sol 334, Spirit removed the alpha particle X-ray spectrometer and then used the rock abrasion tool to drill into Wishstone. After taking more microscopic images, Spirit placed the alpha particle X-ray spectrometer on the hole for an overnight observation.
On sol 335, Spirit removed the alpha particle X-ray spectrometer from the hole and replaced it with the Moessbauer spectrometer. Spirit also started a long series of Moessbauer observations that would last until the early morning of sol 337.
On sol 337, Spirit stowed its robotic arm, then bumped backwards to take final images of Wishstone and the rock abrasion tool hole. Spirit was commanded to drive 15 meters (49 feet), but drove only about 6 meters (20 feet) due to experiencing slippage of up to 80 percent on uphill portions of the drive.
On sol 338, Spirit drove 8 meters (26 feet) with 25 meters (82 feet) of commanded motion. Spirit saw up to 95-percent slip on some of the drive segments due to sandy terrain and the rover's tilt of 15 to 20 degrees.
On sol 339, the rover team attempted another 25-meter (82-foot) drive. This was cut short at the start when the right rear wheel ingested a potato-sized rock. The rock apparently jammed between the inner part of the wheel and the drive mechanism, causing the drive current to exceed a pre-set limit, resulting in a safe motor stall.
Sol 340 - Spirit made observations with the miniature thermal emission spectrometer to seek other rock targets similar to Wishstone. Turning the right rear wheel about 60 degrees successfully un-jammed the rock, but it remained inside the wheel.
Sols 341, 342 and 343 were planned as a combined three-sol plan that included observations with the miniature thermal emission spectrometer each sol. On sol 341, Spirit used its microscopic imager and its Moessbauer spectrometer to examine disturbed soil in front of the rover. It switched to the alpha particle X-ray spectrometer overnight to gather more compositional information about the same target. On sol 342, Spirit performed a mid-day tool change back to the Moessbauer spectrometer. On sol 343, the rover stowed the robotic arm and took images with the panoramic camera of targets that had been observed with the miniature thermal emission spectrometer. Spirit then performed a small maneuver but did not significantly change the position of the rock in the wheel.
Sol 344 - Spirit performed more remote sensing and did a maneuver that lifted the right rear wheel slightly out of a hole, but the rock remains partially in the wheel. The wheel is about one-third buried in the soft soil, making it difficult for the rock to escape until the wheel gets out of the hole.
Sol 345 - Spirit successfully executed another small maneuver to get the right rear wheel out of hole and get the rock out of the wheel, but more steps will be required. The rover also used the panoramic camera and miniature thermal emission spectrometer to acquire information about nearby targets. Sol 345 ended on Dec. 22.
Daily Update - 12/21/04
Back on the Plains
Opportunity Status for sol 313-319
Opportunity examined tracks on its way to see its heat shield.
After six fruitful months exploring the interior of "Endurance Crater," the Opportunity rover has successfully climbed out of the crater onto the surrounding flatland of Meridiani Planum. Once out, the rover examined some of its own tracks that it had laid down prior to entering the crater. It compared them side-by-side with fresh tracks in order to observe any weathering effects in the intervening 200 sols. Opportunity is now making its way toward an engineering examination of its heat shield, which is located about 200 meters (220 yards) from the edge of Endurance. Now that the vehicle is on the relatively flat plain rather than tilted toward the Sun on the north-facing inner slope of the crater, electrical output from its solar array has declined by about 15 percent. Opportunity remains in excellent health as it begins a new phase of exploration.
Sol 312 and 313 were planned in a single planning cycle. Opportunity was still inside Endurance Crater. On sol 312 the plan began with backing up and using the panoramic camera and miniature thermal emission spectrometer to observe a rock target called "Wharenhui," which had been treated with the rock abrasion tool on earlier sols. Subsequent commands were to turn cross-slope, drive 7 meters (23 feet), turn upslope, and drive an additional 6 meters (20 feet) uphill. Opportunity performed the drive perfectly, ending up approximately 5 meters (16.4 feet) from the rim of Endurance Crater. Opportunity's tilt went from 25 degrees pre-drive to 19 degrees post-drive.
Sol 313 was a restricted sol because results from the sol 312 drive were not available for planning sol 313. That meant that no driving or robotic-arm activities were permitted. So Opportunity performed about two hours of observations using the panoramic camera and miniature thermal emission spectrometer and then went to sleep in the early afternoon. The rover woke up to support late-afternoon and early-morning communication relays by the orbiting Mars Odyssey.
Sols 314 through 316 were planned in another single planning cycle. The plan was to complete the egress from Endurance Crater on sol 315, so sol 314 was another remote sensing sol. This would be the last full sol inside Endurance. Opportunity spent about two and a half hours observing with the panoramic camera and miniature thermal emission spectrometer. It also performed a nighttime observation with the miniature thermal emission spectrometer just before midnight. To ensure that Opportunity had adequate power, the early-morning communication-relay session with Odyssey was canceled and Opportunity went into a modified deep sleep after completing the late-night observation.
Sol 315 was the big day for Opportunity. The rover was finally going to leave Endurance Crater after spending 181 sols there! Opportunity was instructed to drive 7 meters (23 feet) up and out of the crater. It was a textbook drive. Everything went as planned and Opportunity had finally, successfully completed a long and detailed series of observations inside Endurance. Opportunity ended up on the plains of Meridiani ready to begin the next chapter of its adventures.
Sol 316 was the third sol of a three-sol plan, and because Opportunity had driven on sol 315, sol 316 was restricted to remote-sensing observations. The rover performed about two hours of remote sensing and went to sleep. Out on the plains, Opportunity went from a northerly tilt that is very good for solar exposure, to a southerly tilt that is not so good for solar exposure. The tilt was expected to be as high as 10 degrees, but Opportunity's actual tilt was about 5 degrees. Daily output from the solar panels went from 840 watt-hours in the crater, to 730 watt-hours on the plains.
Since the team continues to be operating in restricted sol mode, sols 317 and 318 were planned together as a two-sol plan. For sol 317, the science team elected to drive toward wheel tracks that Opportunity had made before entering Endurance Crater. The rover backed up about 5 meters (16.4 feet), performed some mid-drive imaging, and then continued another 10 meters (33 feet) to put the old rover tracks into the work volume of the robotic arm. Sol 318 was another remote-sensing sol, during which Opportunity imaged its still-distant heat shield and conducted a miniature thermal emission spectrometer observation of the tracks.
After the drive, both old and new tracks were directly in front of the rover. On sol 319 Opportunity captured microscopic imager mosaics of both types of tracks, then drove about 40 meters (131 feet) closer to the heat shield, which will be examined carefully in future sols. Sol 319 ended on Dec. 17.
Daily Update - 12/14/04
Trekking Toward 'Husband Hill'
Spirit Status for sol 306-325
Spirit drove five of the last seven days, continuing its trek towards the top of "Husband Hill." Spirit's intermediate goal is a ridge dubbed "Larry's Lookout," which is roughly 75 meters (246 feet) away. Getting there using Spirit's current path will be a challenge given the sand, slope, and rocks in this area. Spirit paused for a set of weekend observations of a rock called "Wishstone." Total odometry for the mission is now 3,944 meters (2.45 miles).
The amount of electric current drawn by the motor on the right front wheel is in the normal range. Near the end of Spirit's long series of drives from "Bonneville Crater" to the "Columbia Hills," the right front wheel began to draw roughly twice the current of the other five wheels. The increased current prompted engineers to limit the use of this wheel to preserve its life. Since arriving at the hills, Spirit has had relatively few driving days. The rover team's current working theory on this problem suggests that the recent rest periods have allowed the lubricant in this wheel to redistribute, causing the current draw to return to normal. Periodic rest days will be included in rover drivers' plans, and Spirit will alternate forward and backward driving to keep the lubricant in all of the wheels more evenly distributed.
Daily Update - 12/14/04
Out of 'Endurance'
Opportunity Status for sol 306-315
Opportunity has finished its work inside "Endurance Crater" and climbed out. Before leaving, the rover examined a transition point between dark and light rock layers about 20 meters (about 66 feet) from the rim of the crater. Communication with Mars Odyssey has been good, so the backlog of onboard data has improved. The rover spent six months inside the stadium-sized crater to study layered bedrock exposed there. The exit drive on sol 315 put Opportunity completely outside the crater for the first time since sol 134. Opportunity continues to be in excellent health.
Sol 306 was the second sol of inspecting a rock target called "Paikea" with tools on the robotic arm. On the previous sol, Opportunity had cleaned the surface of Paikea with its rock abrasion tool brush. During sol 306, the rover observed the target with the panoramic camera and the microscopic imager, then ground away a patch of the rock's surface for about two hours with the rock abrasion tool. After the grind, the rover examined the fresh hole in the rock with the panoramic camera, hazard-avoidance camera and microscopic imager. This was followed by placement of the alpha particle X-ray spectrometer on the abraded area for later data collection. The rover woke at about 4:45 a.m. (local solar time) for a morning communication-relay pass with Odyssey on sol 307. Then it turned on the alpha particle X-ray spectrometer and gathered data until mid-morning.
Sols 307 through 309 were planned together as a three-sol plan. Sol 307 was similar to sol 306, with imaging, rock grinding, and overnight X-ray spectrometer measurements, this time targeted on "Wharenhui." Also, between 1:30 p.m. and 2 p.m. local solar time, Opportunity used its miniature thermal emission spectrometer and panoramic camera to make observations coordinated with a Mars Global Surveyor overflight. In the late morning of sol 308, the rover placed its Moessbauer spectrometer on the freshly drilled hole in Wharenhui, and then collected data nearly continuously for the next two sols. In order to provide sufficient energy for this extended integration, overnight communication passes for the early mornings of sols 309 and 310 were sacrificed.
The grinding activity on sol 307 was not as productive as hoped, so plans for the next couple of sols were revised. Because the team had to wait for retransmission of some rock abrasion tool data on sol 310, the sol was spent using the microscopic imager, placing the alpha particle X-ray spectrometer, and performing about an hour of remote-sensing observations.
Sol 311 was spent re-grinding Wharenhui. The plan was to grind another 3 to 4 millimeters (0.1 to 0.2 inches) into the rock. The grind went as planned, microscopic images were taken and the alpha particle X-ray spectrometer was placed in the hole. That spectrometer's integration was not started until the sol 312 early-morning Odyssey pass at 4:20 a.m. Mars local time.
The plan for sol 312 was to complete the alpha particle X-ray spectrometer integration begun in the early morning, perform about 45 minutes of observations with the panoramic camera and navigation camera, then drive about 12 meters (39 feet) toward the crater rim.
Total odometry after sol 311 was 1,766.07 meters (1.1 miles).
Daily Update - 12/7/04
The Holiday Spirit is on Mars
Spirit Status for sol 306-325
During the 19 sols ending on sol 325 (Dec. 1), Spirit continued to explore in the "Columbia Hills." Spirit reached a position northeast of a ridge called "Machu Picchu" and began crossing a 200-meter-wide (656-foot-wide) flat saddle area.
The amount of electric current drawn by the motor of the right front wheel continues to be a concern. However, during a recent drive the current draw was closer to normal than it had been in preceding weeks. Engineers will continue to limit use of this wheel by driving backwards when terrain allows, dragging it 90 percent of the time.
Between sols 306 and 325, Spirit finished shooting a Thanksgiving panorama with the panoramic camera; investigated new rock targets "Corn," "Cocomama," and "Butter" with the science instruments; and continued to drive eastward between the "West Spur" and an area where the terrain slopes back upward toward "Husband Hill."
Spirit successfully completed about 80 meters (262 feet) of driving, bringing the total mission traverse to 3.82 kilometers (2.37 miles).
Daily Update - 12/6/04
Edging Out of 'Endurance'
Opportunity Status for sol 292-298
Opportunity has completed its super-high-resolution imaging and other remote sensing operations from the base of "Burns Cliff," collecting more than 985 megabits of telemetry. Due to the large number of observations, the data management team has been working hard to manage available memory. Opportunity has now begun its journey out of "Endurance Crater." While in the crater, Opportunity has experienced drive slippage of up to 100 percent and tilts as high as 31.05 degrees. The rover was pushed to its traverse limits, but continued to perform all that was asked of it. Opportunity remains in excellent health. Solar power is nearly as high now as it was at the beginning of the mission.
Having made its closest approach to Burns Cliff, Opportunity continued its remote science campaign on sol 292. In the morning and early afternoon, the rover captured a portion of a color panorama plus images of targets called "Cushion" and "Bartlett." During these observations, Opportunity applied some of its excess energy to engage in an hour-long direct-to-earth communications session, downlinking an extra 10 megabits or so. Waking up the next morning at 7:18 local solar time, the rover heated cameras and actuators in advance of looking for clouds.
Sols 293 through 295 were planned together as a three-sol plan, continuing the panorama. Other observations included navigation camera imaging to fill holes in prior image coverage, panoramic camera atmospheric imaging while the Sun was high in the sky, and miniature thermal emission spectrometer imaging of targets "Ebony," "Ivory," and Cushion. Another direct-to-earth communications session was scheduled for midday on sol 293. On sols 293 and 294, the rover finished the remote science campaign, completing the panorama.
On sol 295, for the first time in 10 sols, Opportunity was on the move, beginning a trek out of Endurance Crater. The planned traverse had two parts, with the second leg to be driven only if the rover was on track after the first leg. Opportunity drove 3.6 meters (about 12 feet), determined that it was sufficiently close to a designated waypoint, and then continued for another 3.6 meters (about 12 feet). At the completion of the drive, the rover updated information about its attitude and position.
Opportunity continued its westward journey on sol 296, performing an 11-meter (36-foot) drive on flat rocky terrain that provides good traction for the rover. The drive succeeded as planned, leaving the vehicle perfectly in the middle of its intended path. Opportunity then performed two hours of post-drive observations. At this point, there appeared to be a possible shortcut out of the crater, just about 13 meters (about 43 feet) in front of Opportunity. If traversable, this early egress chute could shorten the vehicle's exit route by more than 30 meters (about 98 feet) and many sols. In response to this possibility, the team planned further investigation of the chute area.
Sols 297 through 299 and sols 300 through 302 were planned as two consecutive three-sol plans due to the Thanksgiving holiday on Earth. Commands for sols 297, 298 and 299 were uplinked on Tuesday (Nov. 23) and commands for sols 300 through 302 were uplinked the next day. The planning team went above and beyond to deliver six sol plans in two Earth days.
The plan for sol 297 included a drive west for about 13 meters (43 feet) to a relativity flat area. This location would afford a good view of the possible egress chute and allow the robotic arm to be deployed so the Moessbauer spectrometer could be placed on the filter magnet and perform four sols of data collection. The drive stopped early because Opportunity slipped more than anticipated and missed an intermediate waypoint. The drive covered 8.6 meters (about 28 feet). However, imaging after the drive allowed a detailed analysis of the possible shortcut.
To make an early exit, Opportunity would have had to cross terrain sloping 28 degrees. The opening of the chute is 1.14 meters (about 4 feet) wide, and there appears to be tall rock outcropping very close to the opening. On the route to the originally planned exit path at "Keratepe," where Opportunity entered the crater six months ago, the average slope is only 22 degrees and there are no large obstacles to avoid. So the decision was made to skip the shortcut and continue toward Karatepe.
Total odometry after sol 297 is 1736.22 meters (1.08 miles).