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Daily Update - 3/31/06
Difficult progress with five-wheel drive
Spirit Status for sol 790-797

NASA's Mars Odyssey orbiter resumed communication-relay support of the Mars Exploration Rovers on March 25, 2006. Spirit executed drives on sols 792 and 794 (March 26 and 27), but has been having trouble making progress given the current terrain and driving conditions. The team is developing new drive strategies for five-wheel driving in the test facility at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. The new techniques for turning the rover to face waypoints are proving successful on Mars, but soft soil and inclines in Spirit's current location make uphill progress difficult to achieve. At the end of the week, the team decided to stop trying to advance along a route Spirit had been attempting in recent sols and, instead, to drive back downhill a few meters and then begin a different route toward a north-facing slope for surviving the Martian winter.

Right-front wheel status Diagnostic tests run on the drive motor for Spirit's right-front wheel at various voltage levels resulted in no motion. These tests were consistent with results in the test facility, and they indicate an open connection in the motor. As a result, the team has precluded further use of this motor, so Spirit will continue driving with five wheels.

Sol-by-sol summaries

Sol 790 (March 24): Spirit completed its usual morning science observations of assessing the clarity of the sky (a variable called "tau") with the panoramic camera, and checking the sky and ground with the miniature thermal emission spectrometer. Before shutting down for this light-activity sol, the rover used 13 different filters of the panoramic camera to examine soil that had been churned up in wheel tracks.

Sol 791: The Mars Odyssey orbiter, which had been unavailable for communication-relay support for three days because it went into a precautionary "safe" mode temporarily, resumed relay work. Spirit used the panoramic camera for assessing sky clarity and for surveying some rocks. It used the miniature thermal emission spectrometer for sky and ground observations and to examine the disturbed soil in the wheel tracks.

Sols 792 and 793: With a new downlink from Odyssey, the team came in on Saturday to plan a two-hour drive for sol 792. Spirit turned about 125 degrees to face a new drive target and began to drive toward it. The drive ended a few meters later when Spirit detected 71-percent slippage. On sol 793, Spirit completed a light schedule of remote-sensing observations.

Sols 794 and 795: Spirit drove 5.7 meters (19 feet) on sol 794, but most of the odometry change was a part of the heading change, rather than progress toward a destination. Again, high slip terminated the drive. As in the previous two-sol plans, there was light remote sensing on the second sol.

Sols 796 and 797: Spirit's sol 796 uplink time was during a Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter aerobraking maneuver and the two spacecraft cannot use the same radio band at the same time, so the rover team used forward commanding relayed via Odyssey to uplink Spirit's sequences of commands for sols 796 and 797. The plan for sol 796 was to turn 60 degrees clockwise toward a new waypoint and drive toward it using visual odometry to help check for slip. The rover drove 4 meters (13 feet) before the drive stopped due to excessive (61 percent) slippage. As on the previous drive attempt, most of the added odometry was in the turning, not forward progress. After the drive, Spirit acquired images to help the uplink team analyze possible alternative routes to north-tilted slopes.

As of sol 796 (March 30, 2006), Spirit's total odometry was 6,836.48 meters (4.25 miles).

Daily Update - 3/28/06
Flight Team Investigates Right Front Wheel Anomaly
Spirit Status for sol 782-789

The flight team continues to investigate the right front wheel anomaly on Spirit. A diagnostic test conducted at a different temperature than earlier testing continued to indicate an open circuit condition for the wheel. Team members are conducting testbed experiments at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory to understand the new characteristics of five-wheel driving.

On March 21, 2006, NASA's Mars Odyssey orbiter went into a precautionary safe mode as a result of action by on-board fault protection. Odyssey was unavailable for three days to relay data from either Spirit or Opportunity to Earth. Spirit's flight team held a special Saturday planning session to make up for lost sols. Because of the approaching winter, it is imperative to move Spirit to north-facing slopes to insure the rover has adequate power during the deepest part of the winter.

Spirit was in restricted sols, which occur when the timing of downlinks is too late in the planning day to provide vital location and health information about the rover after it executes the previous day's commands. Therefore, drives could be planned for only every second sol.

Sol-by-sol highlights:

Sol 782 (March 16, 2006): Spirit drove more than 9 meters (30 feet).

Sol 784: Challenged by a mound with a modest slope, Spirit stopped the drive after only 0.85 meters (2.8 feet) because of excessive slip.

Sol 787: Spirit moved away from the sticky mound with a 4.5-meter (15-foot) drive.

Sol 788 (March 22, 2006): The flight team planned to have Spirit drive approximately 11 meters (36 feet) to a new waypoint.

Odometry:

As of sol 787 (March 21, 2006), Spirit's total odometry was 6,812.16 meters (4.23 miles).

Daily Update - 3/27/06
Continuing the Move Away from 'Erebus'
Opportunity Status for sol 762-770

Opportunity is healthy and making progress away from "Erebus Crater." This week the rover drove nearly 180 meters (591 feet).

Sol-by-sol summaries:

Sol 762 (March 16, 2006): Opportunity started the sol in front of a long, flat trough and was able to drive just over 53 meters (174 feet) along this path.

Sol 763: The rover conducted atmospheric science and cloud observations.

Sol 764: Opportunity conducted targeted remote sensing, including panoramic camera images of "Red River Station" and "Kingfisher." It examined "Rush Springs" and "Red River Station" with the miniature thermal emission spectrometer. It also filmed three cloud movies at various times of day and did some other atmospheric science.

Sol 765: The rover drove 48.5 meters (159 feet), first over a small ripple, then down a trough to a patch of outcrop.

Sol 766: The rover drove 34.6 meters (114 feet), first down a trough, then crossing a few small ripples.

Sol 767: Opportunity drove approximately 44 meters (144 feet) over a few small ripples. Since there was no outcrop along the day's drive path, the team used more frequent slip checks. Before the drive, Opportunity acquired panoramic camera images of some nearby outcrop.

Sol 768: The Odyssey orbiter went into safe mode before Opportunity's afternoon UHF relay pass, so the team didn't have any information on how the rover performed on sol 767. For sol 768 the team planned a 70-minute direct-to-Earth communication session. Mars is getting farther from Earth, and even with a Deep Space Network dish antenna 34 meters (112 feet) in diameter, the slow downlink rate yielded only 6 megabits of data. However, this was enough to indicate that the planned activities on sol 767, including the drive, had been completed successfully.

Sol 769: Odyssey was still recovering from safe mode. Since the UHF downlink capability was unavailable, the planned activities for Opportunity for the day were only to collect two tau readings. (Tau is a measure of atmospheric opacity. Determining it requires very little data volume.) The rover did not use the deep-sleep mode.

Sol 770 (March 24, 2006): The sol's activities were planned knowing that the day could be the earliest that the rovers might regain communication-relay support from Odyssey. The team is planned several tau observations and a scan of sky and ground by the miniature thermal emission spectrometer. Opportunity did use the deep sleep mode.

Total odometry as of sol 768 (March 22, 2006): 6,908 meters (4.29 miles).

Daily Update - 3/20/06
Parting With 'Payson'
Opportunity Status for sol 757-763

Opportunity has finished science observations at the "Payson" outcrop. Since the rover was operating in restricted mode, the team could plan a drive only every other day. Even so, Opportunity started the journey away from the rim of "Erebus." Back on the regular schedule, the team next plans to drive the rover farther south.

Sol-by-sol summaries:

Sol 757 (March 11, 2006): At the start of the sol, Opportunity was perched at an entrance to a second "half-pipe," the team's term for shallow troughs near the Payson outcrop in Erebus crater. There was more rubble and less nicely layered outcrop than at the previous half-pipe, and a dune blocked the exit to the south. The team decided to drive part-way in for outcrop imaging. Before the drive, Opportunity's panoramic camera acquired images of a target called "Yuman." The rover drove roughly 20 meters (66 feet) and then acquired standard post-drive imaging plus a panoramic camera mosaic of target "Hokan," and a miniature thermal emission spectrometer scan of the same target. The next morning the rover collected part two of the Hokan panorama.

Sol 758: Opportunity drove about 17 meters (about 56 feet) back out of the half-pipe, with a quick stop mid-way to collect a small panoramic camera mosaic of target "Yavapai." At the end of this sol, Opportunity had completed all planned science at Erebus and was ready to start driving south.

Sol 759: This sol was a recharge day, with a few atmospheric and cloud observations.

Sol 760: On the road again! This sol, Opportunity completed a 33.5-meter (110-foot) drive south over a patch of outcrop, then down the trough of two dunes.

Sol 761: The rover conducted observations of the atmosphere and the ground with the panoramic camera and the miniature thermal emission spectrometer.

Sol 762: Opportunity started the sol in front of a long, flat trough. The team planned a drive of approximately 50 meters (164 feet) south along this path.

Sol 763 (May 17, 2006): The team planned atmosphere and cloud observations.

Total odometry as of sol 761 (May 15, 2006): 6735.31 meters (approximately 4.2 miles).

Daily Update - 3/16/06
Spirit Continues Driving on Five Wheels
Spirit Status for sol 778-783

Spirit continued to make progress toward "McCool Hill" despite a reduction in solar energy and problems with the right front wheel. The team plans to have the rover spend the winter on the hill's north-facing slopes, where the tilt toward the sun would help maximize daily output by the solar panels. On Spirit's 779th sol, or Martian day (March 13, 2006), the drive actuator on the right front wheel stalled during a turn to adjust the position of the rover's antennas. The stall ended the day's drive, which brought Spirit 29 meters (95 feet) closer to McCool, still approximately 120 meters (390 feet) away.

Engineers conducted tests on sols 781 and 782 (March 15 and 16, 2006) on a testbed at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory as well as remotely on Spirit. Further analysis is needed to determine what caused the right front actuator to stop working. Meanwhile, the operations team has successfully commanded Spirit to drive using only 5 wheels. Engineers plan to have Spirit continue driving backward with five healthy wheels while dragging the right front wheel.

Sol-by-sol summaries:

Sol 778 (March 12, 2006): Spirit spent the day conducting remote atmospheric sensing.

Sol 779: Spirit drove about 29 meters (95 feet) and acquired post-drive images. A fault in the right front wheel drive actuator terminated the drive.

Sol 780: Spirit spent the day recharging batteries and re-transmitting information about the previous day's drive to Earth. Spirit collected additional imagery of the right front wheel.

Sol 781: Spirit completed diagnostic tests and drove 3.9 meters (13 feet) using only five wheels. Diagnostic tests showed that the right-front-wheel problem involved the drive actuator, not the steering.

Sol 782: Rover drivers planned a drive of approximately 12 meters (40 feet) using only five wheels.

Sol 783 (March 17, 2006): The operations team planned to have Spirit spend the day sleeping to charge up the batteries.

As of sol 781 (March 15, 2006), Spirit's total odometry was 6,797 meters (4.22 miles).

Daily Update - 3/13/06
Hawkeyeing from the 'Half Pipes'
Opportunity Status for sol 751-756

Opportunity is healthy and making its way south along the "Payson" outcrop of "Erebus Crater." The traverse paths are known within the team as "half-pipes," after the popular Olympic event. Last week Opportunity drove along one half-pipe, collecting high-resolution panoramic camera images of the outcrop. (The team calls this "scoot and shoot"). The rover has now left this path, and the team has planned a drive to the next half-pipe. Depending on traversability, Opportunity will either continue its scoot-and-shoot outcrop imaging campaign over the weekend, or start down the road to "Victoria Crater."

Sol-by-sol summaries:

Sol 751 (March 5, 2006): Opportunity drove a short bump, took mid-drive panoramic camera images of the outcrop, then drove about 8 meters (about 26 feet) along the "half-pipe."

Sol 752: The rover did untargeted remote sensing this sol, including atmospheric science and systematic foreground studies with the navigation camera and the miniature thermal emission spectrometer. Systematic foreground studies means gathering a set of consistent observations of different objects right in front of the rover.

Sol 753: Opportunity took pre-drive panoramic camera images of a cobble, drove 4 meters (13 feet), imaged the outcrop, then drove about 11 meters (36 feet) out of the first half-pipe towards the next one. It also acquired post-drive imaging.

Sol 754: Opportunity conducted systematic foreground studies with the panoramic camera and the miniature thermal emission spectrometer. The rover also did some atmospheric science.

Sol 755: Opportunity drove about 19 meters (about 62 feet) to the edge of the half-pipe and acquired post-drive imaging to determine traversability.

Sol 756 (March 10, 2006): The plan for the sol is to conduct atmospheric science, including an attempt to observe clouds.

Total odometry as of sol 753 (March 7, 2006): 6645.57 meters (4.13 miles)

Daily Update - 3/13/06
Spirit Studies Surface and Atmosphere on Way to 'McCool'
Spirit Status for sol 771-777

Since backing down from the top of "Home Plate" on Martian day, or sol, 764 (Feb. 25, 2006), Spirit has driven southeast 103 meters (338 feet) toward "McCool Hill." Along the way, the rover used its robotic arm to analyze a rock target dubbed "Fuzzy Smith" and conducted remote scientific studies of outcrops along the side of Home Plate and on "Mitcheltree Ridge." Scientists plan to acquire long-baseline stereo images of McCool Hill before driving too close to the hillside. The images will provide measurements of surface features necessary for planning the rover's path.

During the week, NASA's Odyssey spacecraft has been relaying commands from Earth to Spirit via the UHF link. Communications over X-band frequencies have been allocated for use by the Deep Space Network to track the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter during its approach to the red planet. Next week, Spirit is expected to resume operations via X-band uplinks.

Sol-by-sol summaries:

Sol 771 (March 4, 2006): Spirit completed an analysis of targets dubbed "Rube Foster" and "Willie Wells" using the Moessbauer spectrometer and 13 filters on the panoramic camera. During the afternoon Odyssey pass, Spirit collected data with the miniature thermal emission spectrometer. Spirit then began a study of a rock target called Fuzzy Smith with the Moessbauer spectrometer.

Sol 772: Spirit stowed the robotic arm and took panoramic camera images of Fuzzy Smith, then drove 27 meters (89 feet) southeast across Home Plate. After the drive, Spirit conducted opacity observations of afternoon dust and measurements of the sky and ground using the miniature thermal emission spectrometer.

Sol 773: After waking, Spirit continued atmospheric studies by taking thumbnail images of the sky with the panoramic camera and images of both the sky and ground with the miniature thermal emission spectrometer. In the afternoon, Spirit acquired images with both the panoramic and navigation cameras to provide essential data for selecting targets and planning routes. The rover also completed a systematic ground survey and survey of rock clasts using the panoramic camera.

Sol 774: Spirit drove off of Home Plate and back into the "Dugout" – a gulley near the southeast edge of Home Plate. The rover acquired mid-drive images and post-drive images of surrounding terrain, then completed opacity observations and measurements of the sky and ground with the miniature thermal emission spectrometer.

Sol 775: In the morning, Spirit took thumbnail images of the sky with the panoramic camera and miniature thermal emission spectrometer measurements of the sky and ground. With the robotic arm still stowed, Spirit spent 30 minutes collecting temperature data using the alpha particle X-ray spectrometer. In the afternoon, Spirit conducted reconnaissance with the miniature thermal emission spectrometer.

Sol 776: Plans for this sol call for Spirit to begin collecting a long-baseline stereo mosaic of images of the hill by taking panoramic camera images from one site, driving 8 meters (26 feet), and then acquiring the part of the second half of the stereo mosaic.

Sol 777 (March 11, 2006): Plans for this sol include morning atmospheric studies, finishing the long-baseline stereo mosaic, and taking pictures of a target called "Bitty Cloud."

As of sol 775 (March 9, 2006), Spirit's total odometry was 6,756 meters (4.2 miles).

Daily Update - 3/3/06
Spirit Studies Geology While Preparing for Martian Winter
Spirit Status for sol 763-770

Spirit successfully completed four Martian days, or sols, of driving clockwise around the rim of "Home Plate" toward the south and east. The rover is currently spending three sols studying a rock target called "Fuzzy Smith" using three instruments on the robotic arm: the microscopic imager, Moessbauer spectrometer, and alpha particle X-ray spectrometer.

During the coming week, Spirit will communicate with Earth in UHF-only mode while NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter arrives at the red planet.

Sol-by-sol summaries:

Sol 763 (Feb. 25, 2006): Spirit completed scientific studies of a rock target called "Crawfords."

Sol 764: Spirit drove 22.7 meters (74.4 feet) and acquired post-drive images with the panoramic and navigation cameras.

Sol 765: Spirit acquired panoramic camera images of a transit of the Martian moon, Phobos, and recharged the batteries for the next day of driving.

Sol 766: Spirit drove 37 meters (121 feet), acquired post-drive images, and conducted atmospheric observations.

Sol 767: Spirit drove 29 meters (95 feet), acquired post-drive images, and conducted atmospheric observations.

Sol 768: Spirit drove 14.26 meters (47 feet) to the top of white outcrops on the rim of "Home Plate."

Sol 769: Plans are for Spirit to began a 3-day campaign of scientific observations on a rock target dubbed "Al 'Fuzzy' Smith," using instruments on the rover's robotic arm, including the microscopic imager, alpha particle X-ray spectrometer, and Moessbauer spectrometer.

Sol 770 (March 3, 2006): Plans are for Spirit to continue scientific studies of "Al 'Fuzzy' Smith."

As of sol 770 (March 3, 2006), Spirit's total odometry was 6,693 meters (4.16 miles).

Daily Update - 3/3/06
Reading the Rocks
Opportunity Status for sol 744-750

This week, Opportunity is traversing its way alongside the outcrop "Payson." The team is running in restricted sols, so most of the plans are short (about 10 meters or 33 feet) drives on one sol, followed by remote sensing at the new location. The team continues to command Opportunity to unstow its robotic arm at the end of each drive, as done successfully on sols 745 and 747. This strategy allows Opportunity to drive with the arm safely stowed in its designed position and then unstow it before another night of stressful changes in temperature.

Sol-by-sol summaries:

Sol 744 (Feb. 26, 2006): Opportunity conducted targeted remote sensing at Payson. First the rover took an image of a target called "Dude Ranger" with the panoramic camera. Later it completed two targeted stares with the miniature thermal emission spectrometer on "Mysterious Rider" and "Rainbow Trail."

Sol 745: This sol began with some atmospheric observations with the thermal emission spectrometer and the panoramic camera. Opportunity also took panoramic camera images of magnets. After data was sent, the rover stowed its arm and drove 10.18 meters (33.4 feet). Following the drive, Opportunity unstowed its arm, and used the navigation camera and panoramic camera to take images from the new location. The team then had Opportunity go into deep sleep mode.

Sol 746: Opportunity performed untargeted remote sensing, including more panoramic camera images of Payson, miniature thermal emission spectrometer stares at sky and ground, and other panoramic camera imaging.

Sol 747: This sol's blind drive started with a 0.75 meter (2.5 feet) bump backwards with a heading change of 10 degrees to avoid a rock in Opportunity's path. Once clear of the rock, the drive continued with a slip check 5.6 meters (18.4 feet) in and finished 11.5 meters (37.7 feet) down the pipeline. Opportunity stowed before the drive and unstowed it afterwards. The rover reached a position about 5 meters (16.4 feet) away from Payson outcrop.

Sol 748: Opportunity used the panoramic camera to take a 13-filter image of Payson, "Wilderness Track," and "Maverick Queen." It also used the miniature thermal emission spectrometer on the same targets, and relayed data home via NASA's Mars Odyssey orbiter.

Sol 749: Plans call for this to be the first of two sols in a row of targeted remote sensing on Payson. Opportunity is still sitting about 5 meters (16.4 feet) away from the outcrop and taking panoramic camera images of targets "Code of the West," "Deer Stalker," "Twin Sombreros," "Thunder Mountain," and "Fugitive Trail." Opportunity will stay up after the Odyssey pass for miniature thermal emission spectrometer stares on the afternoon's panoramic camera targets before shutting down for deep sleep.

Sol 750 (March 4, 2006): More targeted remote sensing is planned at Payson with panoramic camera snapshots in the early morning before the high-gain antenna data pass to get better light on the outcrop. Opportunity is not getting deep sleep tonight in order to support the morning Odyssey pass to achieve greater data volume return.

Total Odometry as of sol 749 (March 3, 2006): 6616.97 meters (4.11 miles)

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