NASA Extends Mars Rover Missions Funding When They Resume Contact With Earth

Sep 22, 2004
The traverse of NASA's Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity

As NASA's Spirit and Opportunity rovers resumed reliable contact with Earth, after a period when Mars passed nearly behind the Sun, the space agency extended funding for an additional six months of rover operations, as long as they keep working.

Both rovers successfully completed their primary three-month missions on the surface of Mars in April and have already added about five months of bonus exploration during the first extension of their missions.

Image above: This map shows the traverse of NASA's Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity through the rover's 205th martian day, or sol (Aug. 21, 2004).
______________________________________________________________
Spirit and Opportunity Mission:
NASA's twin robot geologists, the Mars Exploration Rovers, launched toward Mars on June 10 and July 7, 2003, in search of answers about the history of water on Mars. They are scheduled to land on Mars January 3 and January 24 PST (January 4 and January 25 UTC).
The Mars Exploration Rover mission is part of NASA's Mars Exploration Program, a long-term effort of robotic exploration of the red planet.
Primary among the mission's scientific goals is to search for and characterize a wide range of rocks and soils that hold clues to past water activity on Mars. The spacecraft are targeted to sites on opposite sides of Mars that appear to have been affected by liquid water in the past.

______________________________________________________________

"Spirit and Opportunity appear ready to continue their remarkable adventures," said Andrew Dantzler, solar system division director at NASA Headquarters, Washington. "We're taking advantage of that good news by adding more support for the teamwork here on Earth that's necessary for operating the rovers."

Neither rover drove during a 12-day period this month, while radio transmissions were unreliable because of the Sun's position between the two planets. Daily planning and commanding of rover activities recommenced Monday for Opportunity and today for Spirit.

The complete traverse of NASA's Mars Exploration Rover Spirit
This map shows the complete traverse of NASA´s Mars Exploration Rover Spirit through the rover´s 238th martian day, or sol (Sept. 3, 2004).

"It is a relief to get past this past couple of weeks," said Jim Erickson, project manager for both rovers at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif. "Not only were communications disrupted, but the rovers were also going through the worst part of Mars southern-hemisphere winter from a solar-energy standpoint."

"Although Spirit and Opportunity are well past warranty, they are showing few signs of wearing out," Erickson said. "We really don't know how long they will keep working, whether days or months. We will do our best to continue getting the maximum possible benefit from these great national resources."

Rover science team members will spend less time at JPL during the second mission extension. They are able to attend daily planning meetings by teleconferencing from their home institutions in several states and in Europe. "All 150 science team members and collaborators have been provided the tools to be able to participate remotely," said JPL's Dr. John Callas, science manager for the rover project. Workstations researchers used at JPL are at their home institutions. Planning tools include video feeds, workstation display remote viewing, and audio conferencing.

Besides reducing costs, remote operations allow scientists to spend more time at home. "We get back to more normal lives, back to our families, and we still get to explore Mars every day," said Dr. Steve Squyres of Cornell University, Ithaca, N.Y., principal investigator.

Another change in operations is a shift from seven days per week to five days per week from October through December. This accommodates a temporary trim of about 20 percent in the project's engineering team to about 100 members. The rovers' reduced energy supply, during the rest of the martian winter, makes the inactive days valuable for recharging batteries. By January, the energy situation will have improved for the solar-powered rovers, provided they are still operating. The team size will rebound to support daily operations.

As Mars emerges from behind the Sun, Spirit is partway up the west spur of highlands called the "Columbia Hills," a drive of more than 3 kilometers (2 miles) from its landing site. Opportunity is inside stadium-size "Endurance Crater," headed toward the base of a stack of exposed rock layers in "Burns Cliff," and a potential exit route on the crater's south side.

Source: NASA

Explore further: Bad weather delays SpaceX launch with 3-D printer

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Facebook dressed down over 'real names' policy

6 hours ago

Facebook says it temporarily restored hundreds of deleted profiles of self-described drag queens and others, but declined to change a policy requiring account holders to use their real names rather than drag names such as ...

Far more displaced by disasters than conflict

6 hours ago

Disasters last year displaced three times more people than violent conflicts, showing the urgent need to improve resilience for vulnerable people when fighting climate change, according to a study issued ...

Recommended for you

Internet moguls Musk, Bezos shake up US space race

Sep 20, 2014

The space race to end America's reliance on Russia escalated this week with a multibillion dollar NASA award for SpaceX's Elon Musk and an unexpected joint venture for Blue Origin's Jeff Bezos.

The Great Cold Spot in the cosmic microwave background

Sep 19, 2014

The cosmic microwave background (CMB) is the thermal afterglow of the primordial fireball we call the big bang. One of the striking features of the CMB is how remarkably uniform it is. Still, there are some ...

User comments : 0