Sorry for such an irregular posting schedule, but between work and family I've found that I've been extremely lucky to get anything posted to this blog in the past two months. I will resume my history of Mars exploration as and when I can. In the meantime, here is some breaking news with regard to the two rovers on Mars, Spirit and Opportunity, from the NASA website:
NASA is extending, for a fifth time, the activities of the Mars Exploration Rovers, Spirit and Opportunity. The decision keeps the trailblazing mobile robotic pioneers active on opposite sides of Mars, possibly through 2009. This extended mission and the associated science are dependent upon the continued productivity and operability of the rovers.
"We are extremely happy to be able to further the exploration of Mars. The rovers are amazing machines, and they continue to produce amazing scientific results operating far beyond their design life," said Alan Stern, associate administrator for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, Washington.
The twin rovers landed on Mars in January 2004, 45 months ago, on missions originally planned to last 90 days. In September, Opportunity began descending into Victoria Crater in Mars' Meridiani Planum region. At approximately 800 meters wide (half a mile) and 70 meters deep (230 feet), it is the largest crater the rover has visited. Spirit climbed onto a volcanic plateau in a range of hills that were on the distant horizon from its landing site.
"After more than three-and-a-half years, Spirit and Opportunity are showing some signs of aging, but they are in good health and capable of conducting great science," said John Callas, rover project manager at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.
The rovers each carry a suite of sophisticated instruments to examine the geology of Mars for information about past environmental conditions. Opportunity has returned dramatic evidence that its area of Mars stayed wet for an extended period of time long ago, with conditions that could have been suitable for sustaining microbial life. Spirit has found evidence in the region it is exploring that water in some form has altered the mineral composition of some soils and rocks.
To date, Spirit has driven 7.26 kilometers (4.51 miles) and has returned more than 102,000 images. Opportunity has driven 11.57 kilometers (7.19 miles) and has returned more than 94,000 images.
Among the rovers' many other accomplishments:
Opportunity has analyzed a series of exposed rock layers recording how environmental conditions changed during the times when the layers were deposited and later modified. Wind-blown dunes came and went. The water table fluctuated. Spirit has recorded dust devils forming and moving. The images were made into movie clips, providing new insight into the interaction of Mars' atmosphere and surface. Both rovers have found metallic meteorites on Mars. Opportunity discovered one rock with a composition similar to a meteorite that reached Earth from Mars.
The above image was taken by the panoramic camera on the Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity, showing the view of Victoria Crater from Duck Bay. Opportunity reached Victoria Crater on Sol 951 (September 27, 2006) after traversing 9.28 kilometers (5.77 miles) since her landing site at Eagle Crater. Victoria Crater is roughly 800 meters (one-half mile) wide -- about five times wider than Endurance Crater, and 40 times as wide as Eagle crater. The south face of the 6 meter (20 foot) tall layered Cape Verde promontory can be seen in the left side of the inner crater wall, about 50 meters (about 165 feet) away from the rover at the time of the imaging. The north face of the 15 meter (50 foot) tall stack of layered rocks called Cabo Frio can be seen on the right side of the inner crater wall.
This approximate true color mosaic was taken on Sols 952 and 953 (September 28 and 29, 2006), and was released to the public on September 28, 2007. There are 30 separate pointings through 6 different filters at each pointing. This mosaic was generated from Pancam's 753 nm, 535 nm, and 482 nm filters.