NASA's Mars rover Opportunity leaves 'Tribulation'

April 20, 2017 by Guy Webster, Jet Propulsion Laboratory
A ridge called "Rocheport" on the western rim of Mars' Endeavour Crater spans this mosaic of images from the panoramic camera (Pancam) on NASA's Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity. Credit: Jet Propulsion Laboratory

NASA's senior Mars rover, Opportunity, is departing "Cape Tribulation," a crater-rim segment it has explored since late 2014, southbound for its next destination, "Perseverance Valley."

The rover team plans observations in the valley to determine what type of fluid activity carved it billions of years ago: water, wind, or flowing debris lubricated by water.

A color panorama of a ridge called "Rocheport" provides both a parting souvenir of Cape Tribulation and also possible help for understanding the valley ahead. The view was assembled from multiple images taken by Opportunity's panoramic camera.

"The degree of erosion at Rocheport is fascinating," said Opportunity Deputy Principal Investigator Ray Arvidson, of Washington University in St. Louis. "Grooves run perpendicular to the crest line. They may have been carved by water or ice or wind. We want to see as many features like this on the way to Perseverance Valley as we can, for comparison with what we find there."

Perseverance Valley is about two football fields long. It cuts downward west to east across the western rim of Endeavour Crater. The crater is about 14 miles (22 kilometers) in diameter, with a segmented rim that exposes the oldest rocks ever investigated in place on Mars. Opportunity has less than four football fields' distance of driving to reach the top of the valley after departing Cape Tribulation, a raised segment about 3 miles (5 kilometers) long on the crater's western rim.

This orbital image of the western rim of Mars' Endeavour Crater covers an area about 5 miles (8 kilometers) east-west by about 9 miles (14 kilometers) north-south and indicates the names of some of the raised segments of the rim. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

In 68 months since reaching Endeavour Crater, Opportunity has explored "Cape York," "Solander Point" and "Murray Ridge" before reaching Cape Tribulation about 30 months ago. "Cape Byron," the next raised segment to the south, contains Perseverance Valley and is separated from Tribulation by a gap of flatter ground.

Five drives totaling about 320 feet (98 meters) since the beginning of April have brought Opportunity to a boundary area where Cape Tribulation meets the plain surrounding the crater.

Cape Tribulation has been the site of significant events in the mission. There, in 2015, Opportunity surpassed a marathon-race distance of total driving since its 2004 landing on Mars. It climbed to the highest-elevation viewpoint it has reached on Endeavour's rim. In a region of Tribulation called "Marathon Valley," it investigated outcrops containing clay minerals that had been detected from orbit. There were some name-appropriate Tribulation experiences, as well. The rover team has coped with loss of reliability in Opportunity's non-volatile "flash" memory since 2015. With flash memory unavailable, each day's observations are lost if not radioed homeward the same day.

A ridge called "Rocheport" on the western rim of Mars' Endeavour Crater spans this stereo scene from the panoramic camera (Pancam) on NASA's Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity. The mosaic combines views from the left eye and right eye of the Pancam to appear three-dimensional when seen through blue-red glasses with the red lens on the left. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Cornell Univ./Arizona State Univ.

"From the Cape Tribulation departure point, we'll make a beeline to the head of Perseverance Valley, then turn left and drive down the full length of the valley, if we can," Arvidson said. "It's what you would do if you were an astronaut arriving at a feature like this: Start at the top, looking at the source material, then proceed down the valley, looking at deposits along the way and at the bottom."

Clues to how the valley was carved could come from the arrangement of different sizes of rocks and gravel in the deposits.

He said, "If it was a debris flow, initiated by a little water, with lots of rocks moving downhill, it should be a jumbled mess. If it was a river cutting a channel, we may see gravel bars, crossbedding, and what's called a 'fining upward' pattern of sediments, with coarsest rocks at the bottom." Another pattern that could be evidence of flowing water would be if elongated pieces of gravel in a deposited bed tend to be stacked leaning in the same direction, providing a record of the downstream flow direction.

Now more than 13 years into a mission originally scheduled to last three months on Mars, Opportunity remains unexpectedly capable of continued exploration. It has driven about four-tenths of a mile (two-thirds of a kilometer) since the start of 2017, bringing the total traverse so far to 27.6 miles (44.4 kilometers). The current season on Mars is past the period when global dust storms might arise and curtail Opportunity's solar power.

The view extends from south-southeast on the left to north on the right. Rocheport is near the southern end of an Endeavour rim segment called "Cape Tribulation." The Pancam took the component images for this panorama on Feb. 25, 2017, during the 4,654th Martian day, or sol, of Opportunity's work on Mars. Opportunity began exploring the western rim of Endeavour Crater in 2011 and reached the north end of Cape Tribulation in 2014. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Cornell Univ./Arizona State Univ.

Explore further: Mars rover Opportunity climbs to high point on rim

More information: For more information about Opportunity, visit www.nasa.gov/rovers

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TheGhostofOtto1923
3.5 / 5 (2) Apr 20, 2017
Its amazing how long machines can last without wind and water and mold. Building things on mars is going to be incredibly easy.
MarsBars
2 / 5 (2) Apr 21, 2017
Maybe not quite as easy as you state, Otto. There are winds on Mars, which periodically produce planet-wide dust storms (see http://en.wikiped...f_Mars). Martian dust covering the solar arrays on the Opportunity and Spirit rovers at times has not been helpful, such as in 2007 when the resultant power loss restricted the operation of the rovers to only a few minutes each day. Perhaps humans going to Mars should ensure that they bring enough feather dusters to keep their solar arrays clean and functioning at an acceptable level!

I also wouldn't describe transporting the materials with which to build things from Earth to Mars in the first place as "incredibly easy", given the distances and costs involved, and the relatively high failure rate of Mars missions historically.
TheGhostofOtto1923
4.5 / 5 (2) Apr 21, 2017
The atmosphere on mars is 1% what it is here. Compare dust storms on mars with dust storms in the sahara.

Our first attempts at mars machines have one operating constantly for 13 years. This says 'incredibly easy'. And you dont have to transport anything but robots to mars. Mars has all the raw materials that earth does. And soon enough they can begin building robot factories there.
MarsBars
not rated yet Apr 22, 2017
Our first attempts at mars machines have one operating constantly for 13 years. This says 'incredibly easy'. And you dont have to transport anything but robots to mars. Mars has all the raw materials that earth does. And soon enough they can begin building robot factories there.

Yes, Opportunity rover has functioned well for 13 years, but its partner Spirit got stuck after 5 years and became defunct a year later. Raw materials on Mars required to build things aren't in convenient piles on the surface in one location. Robot miners, excavators, transporters, smelters, etc. will be needed, as well as sophisticated large-scale 3D printers to turn the raw materials into the multitude of components required by constructor robots to assemble the robot factories. No such autonomous robotic devices currently exist. Breakdowns will occur, with no humans around to fix them. I'm not saying it's impossible, but it will be extremely challenging rather than 'incredibly easy'.
TheGhostofOtto1923
not rated yet Apr 24, 2017
And soon enough they can begin building robot factories there
By soon enough I mean within the next few hundred years.
I'm not saying it's impossible, but it will be extremely challenging rather than 'incredibly easy'
Youre talking logistics. My original comment was about machines themselves. Note that i did not mention a timeframe.

Because of the environment, using machines on mars will be incredibly easy compared to anywhere else in the system, including here.

Imagine that i took your post and and put the question 'So what?' after each one of the sentences.
be extremely challenging
I think what is extremely challenging is you imagining just how quickly tech can develop. Robotics will change everything
MarsBars
not rated yet Apr 25, 2017
By soon enough I mean within the next few hundred years.

Otto, so what you really should have written was: "Because of the environment, using machines on Mars within the next few hundred years to build robot factories will be incredibly easy compared to anywhere else in the system, including here." I didn't appreciate that by 'soon enough' you meant a timeframe of several centuries.

I agree - provided that there is still an advanced technological human civilization functioning on Earth in the 23rd or 24th century then sending robots to Mars to build factories should be easy compared with doing it in the near future. It's a pity that neither of us will be around to witness and appreciate this accomplishment.

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