January 3, 2007

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Spirit and Opportunity, the twin Mars Exploration Rovers, are wrapping up their third year on the red planet (Spirit on Tues., Jan. 3, Eastern time, and Opportunity on Wed., Jan. 25). The rovers were originally designed for a three-month mission. Engineers at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., have prepped the rovers for their fourth year on Mars by uploading new commands to "make them smarter." The new software will enable the rovers to navigate more efficiently; search through images for specific features like clouds or dust devils; and track a landscape feature from various angles. More information on the rovers is at www.nasa.gov/rovers and http://marsrovers.jpl.nasa.gov .


Transcript: Both of the rovers have had two brain transplants in the time they've been on the surface of Mars, and those have given them a bunch of brand new capabilities. They are now better than they used to be at finding their way through fields of obstacles. They can keep an eye on something as they're driving and make sure that they get close to that particular thing, because it's an interesting science target. They've figured out how to watch the skies for clouds or watch the terrain for dust devils blowing by, and when they find those and they know those are interesting to us, to send back data on those. They've got a whole lot of capabilities, and they've gotten smarter just as we've gotten smarter. 2 - SCOTT MAXWELL SAYS THAT, BECAUSE THE ROVERS HAVE LIVED MORE THAN 10 TIMES AS LONG AS ORIGINALLY PLANNED, THEY ARE SHOWING SIGNS OF AGING.

Transcript: Ya' know, these are vehicles that are more than 11 times their designed lifetime on the surface of another planet in a very harsh, cold, freezing desert. And they're starting to show signs of age, and some of the, one new source of challenge has been just we come in and we find that something doesn't work, and after we kind of poke at it for a while, we say, 'yeh, it doesn't work,' and so now we have to invent a way to keep the rovers going, to keep doing science with this degraded capability.
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