I think I can! I think I can!

Wall-E’s got nuthin’ on these guys!

This is from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.

18 March 2009

One Mars Rover Sees a Distant Goal; The Other Takes a New Route

PASADENA, Calif. — On a plain that stretches for miles in every direction, the panoramic camera on NASA’s Mars rover Opportunity has caught a first glimpse on the horizon of the uplifted rim of the big crater that has been Opportunity’s long-term destination for six months[I think I can!  I think I can!]

Opportunity’s twin, Spirit, also has a challenging destination, and last week switched to a different route for making progress.

Endeavour Crater, 22 kilometers (14 miles) in diameter, is still 12 kilometers (7 miles) away from Opportunity as the crow flies, and at least 30 percent farther away on routes mapped for evading hazards on the plain. Opportunity has already driven about 3.2 kilometers (2 miles) since it climbed out of Victoria Crater last August after two years of studying Victoria, which is less than one-twentieth the size of Endeavour.

"It’s exciting to see our destination, even if we can’t be certain whether we’ll ever get all the way there," said John Callas of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., project manager for the twin Mars rovers, Opportunity and Spirit. "At the pace we’ve made since leaving Victoria, the rest of the trek will take more than a Martian year." A Martian year lasts about 23 months.

The image with portions of Endeavour’s rim faintly visible can be seen online.

Both rovers landed on Mars in January 2004 to begin missions designed to last for three months. Both are still active after more than five years.

For the next several days, the rover team plans to have Opportunity use the tools on its robotic arm to examine soil and rock at an outcrop along the route the rover is taking toward Endeavour.

"We’re stopping to taste the terrain at intervals along our route so that we can watch for trends in the composition of the soil and bedrock," Squyres said. "It’s part of systematic exploration."

The pause for using the tools on the arm also provides two other benefits. Opportunity’s right-front wheel has been drawing more electric current than usual, an indication of friction within the wheel. Resting the wheel for a few days is one strategy that has in the past helped reduce the amount of current drawn by the motor. Also, on March 7, the rover did not complete the backwards-driving portion of its commanded drive due to unanticipated interaction between the day’s driving commands and onboard testing of capabilities for a future drive. The team is analyzing that interaction before it will resume use of Opportunity’s autonomous-driving capabilities.

Meanwhile, on March 10, the rover team decided to end efforts to drive Spirit around the northeastern corner of a low plateau called "Home Plate" [ah… it is spring and baseball awakens the world again… even on Mars!] in the inner basin of the Columbia Hills, on the other side of Mars from Opportunity. Spirit has had the use of only five wheels since its right-front wheel stopped working in 2006. Consequently, it usually drives backwards, dragging that wheel, so it can no longer climb steep slopes.

Callas said, "After several attempts to drive up-slope in loose material to get around the northeast corner of Home Plate, the team judged that route to be impassable."

The new route to get toward science targets south of Home Plate is to go around the west side of the plateau.

Squyres said, "The western route is by no means a slam dunk. It is unexplored territory. There are no rover tracks on that side of Home Plate like there are on the eastern side. But that also makes it an appealing place to explore. Every time we’ve gone someplace new with Spirit since we got into the hills, we’ve found surprises."

JPL, a division of the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, manages the Mars Exploration Rovers for the NASA Science Mission Directorate, Washington. More information about the rovers is at http://www.nasa.gov/rovers .

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. LCB says:

    These little guys just keep on truckin’!

    (Not trying to get political at all, just having a little run away imagination) Imagine if a trillion of the bailout money had been spent on the space program? Just think of the incredible advancements? The all-knowing Wiki says, “The total cost of building, launching, landing and operating the rovers on the surface for the initial 90 day primary mission was about US$820 million.” Why, we could have two thousand of these little guys rolling around the red planet! I’m sure we could get a bulk discount, for every 100 rovers, get 5 free.

  2. Dove says:

    Thank you Father Z. for giving us a few moments in which we can smile.

  3. Ann says:

    I find it amazing to think how we are studying a planet with robotics.

    I enjoy these updates–thank you Fr. Z!

  4. Surprisingly, when I read this post’s title a favourite Japanese artist of mine named Fukui Mai and her single “Can Can” came to mind: “Yes we can, because we can, everybody say we can can do it, Ain’t no mountain high enough, Uchira no kizuna tachikireru yama ha nai …”

    Thanks for the post Fr Z. It’s amazing how wdtprs can range from serious theological & liturgical discussions to robotics to food…

  5. Mark says:

    Who would have thought this possible five years ago? I still recall those first photos the rovers took after their arrival. And here we are, five years later, and there’s no end in sight. Amazing.

  6. Tomas says:

    Father, do I detect a baseball fan in your comments?

  7. Jacob says:

    The rovers on Mars along with deep space probes like Pioneer (over 25 years) and Voyager (30 years and counting) make the case that manned spaceflight is not only far more expensive, but also far less efficient at gathering data.

    By the time we finish the International Space Station, it will have already reached the end of its service life… All that money could have been spent on things like Hubble, the rovers or more deep space probes… A shame.

  8. David says:

    Father Z, I’m reminded of the grade schooler who asked his catechism teacher if God was a baseball fan – since the creation story starts “in the big inning.”

  9. Taylor says:

    I cant believe this!! I come here expecting a traditional-leaning Catholic website, and find out that the moderator believes in the “planet Mars” of all things! What is this Darwinist nonsense!? Has the whole world gone mad!? Those pictures are clearly computer generated.

  10. David says:

    “God looked at everything he had made, and he found it very good. Evening came, and morning followed–the sixth day. Thus the heavens and the earth and all their array were completed.”

  11. John Fannon says:

    As a fan of the Mars books by Edgar Rice burroughs in my youth, I can’t help wishing that Tars Tarkas the 15ft Green martian warrior, Chieftain of the Tharks could be seen in the camera view Spirit or Opportunity, coming over the horizon riding his ten legged thoat…

    Come to think of it, if would be fun if JPL arranged a little computer generated imagery and imposed it on the published views. Give us all something to smile about in these straitened times.

  12. Taylor says:

    I cant believe this! Truly the path is narrow. Here are wolves in sheeps’ clothing for you! Good-seeming “Catholics” promoting some sort of Exterrestrial fantasy! As if there is something “outside” the spheres! I’ll tell you whose in “outer space” on this one…

    I really expected more from good rational Catholics. Have you not studied the Bible? Aristotle? Dante? This is a demonic hoax! Even the name “Mars” is pagan!! You should really read up on the dangers of belief in other planets and such.

  13. There are 35 lunar craters named after Jesuits.

  14. LCB says:

    If Taylor is writing satire it’s really 1st rate, if not, well, it provides an even better laugh.

    In one of George Weigel’s books he retells a story of JPII walking at one of the synods, perhaps to a pulpit. He was having great difficulty, either do to the gunshot wound or a hip surgery. Feeling the tension of the moment he paused, turned to the hundreds of gathered Bishops and said in ITalian, “And yet, it moves!”

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