January 27th, 2016

NASA’s Opportunity shatters expectations with 12 years on Mars

The target beneath the tool turret at the end of the rover’s robotic arm in this image from NASA’s Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity is “Private John Potts.”

When NASA scientists landed Opportunity on Mars on Jan. 24, 2004, they expected the rover to last for three months.

Opportunity has far outlived its life expectancy, still going strong twelve years later.

And keeping Opportunity alive and moving hasn’t been easy for NASA scientists. Opportunity’s batteries are powered by its own solar panels, an elusive energy source during dark and windy winters.

“Cleaning events have become a critical, yet unplanned component of long-duration solar powered missions on the Martian surface,” explains Discovery News. The rovers’ drivers on Earth optimize windstorms to clean the dusty panels. “Opportunity’s most recent cleaning event occurred toward the end of 2015, before it plunged into Martian winter, thus allowing the rover to continue its valuable work into 2016.”

October 16th, 2015

Comet’s Close Encounter with Mars Dumped Tons of Dust on Red Planet

Sebastian Voltmer in Germany used the iTelescope at Siding Spring Observatory, Coonabarabran, New South Wales, Australia to capture Comet C/2013 A1 passing very close to Mars on 19 October 2014. He used their Takahashi FSQ ED refractor and SBIG STL11000M camera for four 120-seconds exposures; RGB 120-seconds (Bin 2). Image credit: © Sebastian Voltmer.


Comet Siding Spring’s close shave by Mars last year provided a rare glimpse into how Oort Cloud comets behave, according to new research.

The comet flew by Mars at a range of just 83,900 miles (135,000 kilometers) — close enough for the outer ridges of its tenuous atmosphere to pummel the planet with gas and dust.

In just a short flyby, the comet dumped about 2,200 to 4,410 lbs. (1,000 to 2,000 kg) of dust made of magnesium, silicon, calcium and potassium — all of which are rock-forming elements — into the upper atmosphere, the new study found.

August 7th, 2015

3D-Printed Mars Meteorite

Back in 2009, scientists detected an odd-shaped rock by the Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity’s panorama camera. NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab (JPL) team spotted the rock, now called Block Island, in the images downlinked to Earth after it had driven past the rock. The rover backtracked some 820 feet to study Block Island closer, eventually touching the rock with its robotic arm. The image showed a rock approximately 2 feet in length and half that in height, with a metallic bluish tint that distinguished it from other rocks in the area. Upon further analysis scientists discovered that Block Island was a meteorite comprised of iron and nickel. A portion of Block Island’s surface indicated exposure when a meteorite is abraded, polished, and etched by windblown sand.

June 3rd, 2015

Mars Missions to Pause Commanding in June, Due to Sun NASA

In June 2015, Mars will swing almost directly behind the sun from Earth’s perspective, and this celestial geometry will lead to diminished communications with spacecraft at Mars.

The arrangement of the sun between Earth and Mars is called Mars solar conjunction. It occurs about every 26 months as the two planets travel in their sun-centered orbits. The sun disrupts radio communications between the planets during the conjunction period. To prevent spacecraft at Mars from receiving garbled commands that could be misinterpreted or even harmful, the operators of Mars orbiters and rovers temporarily stop sending any commands.

April 9th, 2015

They’re Off and Running for NASA Rover Mars Marathon NASA

About 90 employees at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California, are running 1.2 mile laps through the laboratory grounds today as part of a marathon-length relay to celebrate the first-ever Martian marathon.
NASA’s Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity, which landed on Mars in 2004, surpassed a marathon length of Martian driving on March 24.

Opportunity’s original three-month prime mission in 2004 yielded evidence of environments with liquid water soaking the ground and flowing on planet’s surface. As the rover continued to operate far beyond expectations for its lifespan, scientists chose the rim of Endeavour Crater as a long-term destination. Since 2011, examinations of Endeavour’s rim have provided information about ancient wet conditions less acidic, and more favorable for microbial life, than the environment that left clues found earlier in the mission.

March 27th, 2015

NASA’s longest-running and most successful Mars rover may be brought to a halt by budget cuts Business Insider

It’s been a long time coming, but this week NASA’s Mars Opportunity rovercompleted the first-ever Martian marathon. After landing on the Red Planet in January 2004 on a mission originally planned to only last 90 days, Opportunity has instead endured for more than a decade, and has taken eleven years and two months to travel the marathon-standard 42.195 kilometers. On average, that’s only about ten meters per day—slower even than a snail’s pace.

“This is the first time any human enterprise has exceeded the distance of a marathon on the surface of another world,” says John Callas, Opportunity’s project manager at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. “A first time happens only once.”

March 10th, 2015

Mars Rover Opportunity Finds New Type Of Rock Clapway

Mars rover Opportunity is stopping to investigate some oddly shaped rocks that have a composition never seen on Mars before. The blocky outcrops were spotted when Opportunity climbed an overlook to survey “Marathon Valley”, the current location of the mission of exploration. Matt Golombeck of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) explained the detour: “We drove to the edge of a plateau to look down in the valley, and we found these big, dark-gray blocks along the ridgeline. We checked one and found its composition is different from any ever measured before on Mars. So, whoa! Let’s study these more before moving on.”
Spectrometer analysis indicates that the first of the two rocks has a relatively higher concentration of aluminum and silicon. According to Steve Squyres, Mars Exploration Rover (MER) principal investigator of Cornell University, it seems to be a new type of rock, unlike any other found so far on Mars.

February 3rd, 2015

With an eye on Mars, White House seeks to boost NASA funding The Christian Science Monitor

The White House budget proposal for NASA in 2016 calls for a $500 million boost over the 2015 enacted budget and would keep NASA on its path to Mars, NASA chief Charles Bolden says.
The $18.5 billion budget request, presented by Bolden today (Feb. 2), includes funding for developing a mission to Jupiter’s moon Europa, and the agency’s asteroid redirect mission (ARM). Officials think ARM could help pave the way for crewed missions to the Red Planet by the 2030s.
“NASA is firmly on a journey to Mars,” Bolden said. “Make no mistake, this journey will help guide and define our generation.”

December 31st, 2014

NASA to try to reconfigure a flash drive—on Mars Ars Technica

NASA is going to try to disable some faulty flash memory on the Opportunity rover, which is over a decade into its planned three-month mission to explore Mars. Defects in one of the rover’s seven banks of flash memory are causing a series of reboots and “amnesia” events that are making it difficult for the rover to continue its scientific mission.
Opportunity uses a combination of volatile memory and flash memory. The volatile memory is used to store data obtained by the scientific instruments, which is sent back to Earth prior to nightfall, when power is cut from the rover’s solar panels. The flash memory is used to store telemetry and command information, which allow the rover to continue its mission as the next day starts. If the flash memory is faulty or unavailable, the rover has to do a reset and wait for new commands from Earth.
This started occurring with regularity by early December, prompting NASA to reformat the flash memory. Problems continued, however, and technicians eventually localized the issue to one of the banks of on-board flash memory that provide Opportunity with 2GB of storage. So NASA started to plan for a software patch that would deactivate that bank and allow the rover to function with the remaining six.

November 11th, 2014

Newest NASA Mars Orbiter Demonstrates Relay Prowess NASA

The newest node in NASA’s Mars telecommunications network — a radio aboard the MAVEN orbiter custom-designed for data links with robots on the surface of Mars — handled a copious 550 megabits during its first relay of real Mars data.
MAVEN’s Electra UHF radio received the transmission from NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover on Nov. 6, using an adaptive data rate as the orbiter passed through the sky over the rover. The data that MAVEN relayed to NASA’s Deep Space Network of large dish antennas on Earth included several images of terrain that Curiosity has been examining at the base of Mars’ Mount Sharp. The test also included relaying data to Curiosity from Earth via MAVEN.