The Little Rover That Could

Opportunity makes the most of its opportunity.

NASA’s Mars Rover Opportunity Sets Longevity Record

Nov. 11, 1982 was a bittersweet day on Earth. It was Veterans Day; the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington would be dedicated that weekend. And at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., engineers made a mistake.

They were trying to nurse along the Viking 1 lander on Mars, which had touched down there in 1976 — and surprised them by surviving in the eternal cold there for six years, three months, and 22 days. They transmitted new commands to the ship’s computer so that its batteries would hold a charge better. By accident, they erased data that helped the lander aim its antenna to Earth. Viking 1 was never heard from again.

But its record for longevity has stood. Until now.

Today the Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity, which landed on Mars on Jan. 25, 2004, becomes the longest-lasting earthly visitor ever to the Martian surface. It is still going after 2,247 “sols,” or Martian days. It was designed to last for 90.

“Remember, 90 days is when the warranty runs out,” said Steve Squyres, the principal investigator for Opportunity and its twin rover, Spirit, after they landed three weeks apart. “It’s not when the wheels fall off.”

Opportunity’s six wheels have occasionally gotten stuck, and one of them will no longer steer. Its circuit boards have had to withstand the subzero temperatures of Martian winters, and another is beginning. Its solar panels, at times, have been covered with fine red silt, which made them almost useless for gathering sunlight to make electricity. Life on Mars is tough.

But the solar panels have mercifully been blown clean every time by gusts of wind, much to the relief of NASA engineers. Careful maneuvering has gotten Opportunity out of the sand — once after six weeks of trying. Today they celebrated Opportunity’s record by doing what they’ve been doing since 2008 — keeping the rover on a forced march to a large crater called Endeavour, now eight miles away on the horizon.

See also:
New Record Set for Longest Mission on Mars
Mars Rover Surpasses Viking 1’s Longevity Record
Longevity Record on Mars for a NASA Space Rover
Mars Rover Sets Endurance Record
Mars rover surpasses Viking 1’s longevity record
NASA Mars rover Opportunity breaks longevity record
Opportunity rover breaks Mars longevity record
Mars Exploration Rover Mission: Home
Mars Exploration Rover

/now that’s what’s called bang for the buck, if only Congress were this efficient with our tax dollars

Cosmic Neighborhood Watch, Keeping Us Safe From Extinction Events

NASA Launches Comet-Hunting Space Camera

NASA on Monday successfully launched a space telescope designed to create a highly detailed map of the heavens and spot comets and asteroids that could pose a threat to life on Earth.

NASA’s Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer, or WISE, lifted off from California’s Vandenberg Air Force Base atop a Delta II rocket at 6:09 a.m. PST.

“”WISE thundered overhead, lighting up the pre-dawn skies,” said William Irace, mission project manager at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, in Pasadena, Calif.

“All systems are looking good, and we are on our way to seeing the entire infrared sky better than ever before,” said Irace.

WISE will use an infrared camera to map the cosmos. The mission calls for the unmanned spacecraft to cover the entire sky one-and-a-half times, until its frozen coolant runs out. NASA hopes it will capture everything from near-Earth asteroids to distant galaxies teeming with stars.

“The last time we mapped the whole sky at these particular infrared wavelengths was 26 years ago,” noted UCLA’s Edward Wright, who is principal mission manager.

“Infrared technology has come a long way since then. The old all-sky infrared pictures were like impressionist paintings—now we’ll have images that look like actual photographs,” said Wright.

WISE is designed to provide information about the size, composition, and texture of near-Earth objects such as comets and asteroids.

“We can help protect our Earth by learning more about the diversity of potentially hazardous asteroids and comets,” said Amy Mainzer, deputy project scientist for the mission at JPL.

WISE will also attempt to document the cycle of life in the Universe, as it will capture faraway images of star-hatching galaxies and ravenous, planet-eating black holes.

See also:
WISE Spacecraft Seeks Near Earth Objects, New Stars Using Infrared Wavelengths
NASA launches new mapping spacecraft
Utah-made telescope blasts into space
Infrared Space Telescope Launched From California
NASA launches spacecraft that will map stars, galaxies, asteroids
NASA Craft To Photograph Entire Universe
Nasa sky survey probe blasts off
NASA’s Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer launched
NASA’s WISE (Wide-Field Infrared Survey Explorer) telescope launched
NASA – Wide-Field Infrared Survey Explorer
Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer
Delta II Overview
Delta II

/WISE is not only good science, but a good idea for protecting the Earth, well done NASA and JPL