Drive With Opportunity on Epic Mars Rover Marathon: Video
Mars rover Opportunity has recommenced driving duties and continues to explore the red planet despite a series of recent setbacks focusing on its aging memory.
Mars rover Opportunity has recommenced driving duties and continues to explore the Red Planet despite a series of recent setbacks focusing on its aging memory.
New driving commands were sent to the veteran rover on June 27 after Mars moved out of solar conjunction - when the sun blocked communications between Earth and Mars - and having recently completed the distance of an Olympic marathon, NASA has compiled an epic video documenting the six-wheeled robot's decade-long Martian adventure:
The video is compiled from images captured by the rover's Hazard-Avoidance cameras (Hazcams) since the rover landed on Mars in January 2004 to April 2015. Over 8 minutes, the rover can be seen exploring the plains and craters across 26.2 miles (42.2 kilometers) of Meridiani Planum. To the left is the Hazcam view and to the right is a map of Opportunity's journey.
As an added extra, the audio has been derived from data transmitted by Opportunity's accelerometer - the louder the sound, the rougher the terrain. Interestingly, during the rover's drive over sandy terrain, the sound appears muffled, almost like the sound of walking on fresh snow.
The fact that Opportunity is still roving and carrying out groundbreaking science on Mars over a decade after landing is nothing short of mind-blowing, considering its primary mission was slated to last only 3 months. This is a space engineering feat that continues to amaze every day that passes.
However, in recent months, NASA's mission team have been wrestling with a recurring issue focusing on Opportunity's memory.
In 2014, NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (in Pasadena, Calif.) reported that the rover was experiencing "amnesia" problems; mission data was not being written to the rover's non-volatile memory. This had the effect of triggering random resets and the loss of telemetry when the rover shuts down at night.
There was hope that a software fix uploaded earlier this year would solve the problem (the fix would avoid the use of a corrupt databank in the rover's flash memory), but the amnesia events have continued, forcing mission controllers to only use Opportunity's volatile memory, downloading mission data at the end of each working day, thereby bypassing the flash memory.
"Opportunity can continue to accomplish science goals in this mode," said John Callas, Opportunity Project Manager at JPL. "Each day we transmit data that we collect that day."
"Flash memory is a convenience but not a necessity for the rover," Callas added in a news release on Monday. "It's like a refrigerator that way. Without it, you couldn't save any leftovers. Any food you prepare that day you would have to either eat or throw out. Without using flash memory, Opportunity needs to send home the high-priority data the same day it collects it, and lose any lower-priority data that can't fit into the transmission."
Currently, Opportunity is located in "Marathon Valley" on the rim of the 14 mile-wide Endeavour Crater (it has been exploring the edge of Endeavour since 2011) and mission managers are planning on exploring this scientifically interesting valley for the next few months, taking advantage of a sun-facing slope.
From orbital reconnaissance, Marathon Valley is known to contain clay minerals that the rover can study up-close, hopefully revealing more detail about how those clays formed and under what ancient wet conditions. Combined with data being collected by NASA's Curiosity rover in Gale Crater (and information gathered by Opportunity's sister rover Spirit that was declared lost in 2010), these exciting surface missions continue to provide critical information about the Red Planet's potentially habitable past.
On Jan. 24, 2004, Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity (MER-B) entered the Martian atmosphere and bounced onto the red planet's surface. The complex stages of entry, descent and landing operation saw the rover, surrounded with airbags, roll into a small hollow called Eagle Crater in Meridiani Planum -- a feat rover mission scientists called a "hole in one." After righting itself, the airbags were deflated and pulled into Opportunity's lander so the golf cart sized robot could see Mars for the first time -- it's new home. The rover's primary mission was planned to last just 3 months; little did NASA realize that they would still have an operational rover exploring Mars
12 years later
. Here are just a few of the breathtaking views from Opportunity during the very early days of the mission.
Shown here is the first self portrait Opportunity beamed back to Earth shortly after landing on "Sol 0" of the mission (a sol is a Martian day and the length of any Mars surface mission is measured in sols). Its shiny solar array glints in the sunlight on top of its landing platform. Note the deflated airbags surrounding the rover and the rippled impressions the airbag made in the Mars dust.
Opportunity was the second of the twin Mars Exploration Rovers to touch down on Mars regolith in January 2004. A little over 2 weeks earlier, NASA had celebrated the successful landing of Spirit on the other side of the planet in Gusev Crater. Spirit was also highly successful, carrying out groundbreaking science in a very different landscape compared with Opportunity. Sadly, Spirit succumbed to the Martian elements in 2009 after becoming stuck in a sand trap.
In this section of a panorama captured by Opportunity's Pancam, the rover checks out its surroundings on Jan. 26, 2004. Eagle Crater's rim is approximately 10 meters from the rover, obsecuring Opportunity's view of the surrounding landscape.
This Jan. 30 view from Opportunity's rear Hazcam shows the deck of its lander and the surrounding crater before the rover "egressed" onto the Mars soil.
Evidence of the rover's dramatic entry surround the lander. These bounce marks look like they were created by a huge basketball, but they are actually imprints left by the huge airbags that were used to cushion Opportunity's landing, bounce and roll into Eagle Crater.
On Sol 7 of the mission (Jan. 31, 2004) rover drivers commanded Opportunity to roll onto the Martian surface, leaving behind the lander that it called home for the 283 million mile journey from Earth to Meridiani Planum.
The lander -- shown here in color with rover tracks in the background from Opportunity's egress -- was named the Challenger Memorial Station in memory of the final crew of the Space Shuttle Challenger who died when the shuttle suffered an in-flight breakup during launch on Jan. 28, 1986.
After exploring its little 22 meter-wide divot, Opportunity left Eagle Crater and took this panorama of its landing spot on the 33rd, 35th, and 36th sols of its mission. Surrounding the crater is the flat plains of Meridiani Planum, a region it would go on to spend 10 years and nearly 24 miles of hard roving (to date).
As the rover trundled over the loose regolith, rover drivers were able to use the wheels to carve out trenches in the dirt to see what materials lied beneath. Shown here is a trench that was opened for closer inspection by Opportunity's microscopic imager.
With the microscopic imager, Opportunity discovered the region it was exploring is littered in
. This surprise discovery has led scientists over the last decade to theorize that these spherical hematite inclusions originated from Mars' wet past or were formed through volcanic activity.
To analyze the material just below Mars rocks' surfaces, it employs the use of its rock abrasion tool that leaves a circular "lovebite" in rocks after use. This image by Opportunity's front hazcam shows one of those marks on a rock called "McKittrick," located in the "El Capitan" area of the larger outcrop near Opportunity's landing site on Sol 30 of the mission.
During exploration of Eagle Crater, Opportunity was able to spot its discarded backshell and parachute from its descent through the Martian atmosphere. This became a mission target for Opportunity to roll to and investigate.
In a rare opportunity to see a piece of the equipment that allowed the surface mission to survive the fiery entry into the Martian atmosphere a year after landing, Opportunity approached its old backshell that it last saw on Jan. 24, 2004, just before it touched down in Eagle Crater. Shown here is the shiny backshell from its heat shield that protected the rover from temperatures that soured to thousands of degrees on entry.
When Opportunity made its inspections of the heat shield debris field, engineers were excited to see that the shield had inverted, exposing the silvery inner material. Notice the large springs on the ground -- very man made objects in a very alien landscape.
In the months after landing, it became clear that Opportunity wasn't going to stop operating and its mission was extended far beyond its original 3 months. Throughout its adventures, Opportunity repeatedly took "selfies" so that engineers back on Earth could monitor dust buildup on its solar panels. Around a year and a half into the mission, the panels are seen to be virtually dust free. This, however, is not how Opportunity's solar array remained...
A decade of Mars roving caused a huge amount of dust buildup on Opportunity's solar panels. In this photograph taken in January 2014, Opportunity is almost camouflaged. Although this inevitably reduced the amount of sunlight that can be turned into energy, the rover soldiered on -- until it was given a helping hand by Mars winds and dust devil "cleaning event," blowing some of that dust clear...
This self-portrait of NASA's Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity was taken in late March 2014 (right) showing that much of the dust on the rover's solar arrays was removed since a similar portrait from January 2014 (left). A decade of Mars exploration has taken its toll -- one of the rover's six wheels has frozen up and some of its instruments are kaput -- but Opportunity rolls on, turning up valuable new science and finding new mysteries that provide answers to some of the most vexing questions in planetary science. But above all, Opportunity is a testament to the scientists and engineers at NASA and collaborating institutions who sure know how to build a rover.