Spirit prepares to cruise; Opportunity in science mode

Posted: February 8, 2004

The Mars Exploration Rover Spirit will leave its first rock subject late Sunday and begin the long journey toward an impact crater, a day later than planned after a self-imposed software hold. Meanwhile, Opportunity has commenced its examination of the rock outcropping at its landing site by taking amazing microscopic images.

With its arm now stowed, Spirit snapped this image of Adirondack following the RAT'ing. Credit: NASA/JPL
On the Saturday afternoon/evening (U.S. time) workday for Spirit, known as Sol 35, the rover wasn't able to begin driving away from the rock Adirondack as expected. Instead, Spirit collected more information on the rock that had the small hole curved into it late Friday using the Rock Abrasion Tool.

"On Spirit we intended to drive today but we weren't able to accomplish that. We did a lot of remote sensing," mission manager Jim Erickson told reporters in a teleconference. "One of the things we did accomplish was Pancam and Mini-TES of the RAT'ed part of the rock, the RAT hole."

In the upcoming workday, Sol 36, a single command will be sent to Spirit to clear the software hold placed against driving.

"It turned out back on Sol 18 when we had the original anomaly, one of the things the vehicle did was safe itself and it marked a flag that said 'don't drive until you really mean to.' It will know that you really mean to by resetting the flag. It looks like we missed that when we were getting everything back in order for driving on Spirit," Erickson said.

"Not a big a deal, but unfortunate."

Roughly 20 meters could be traversed on the first day of driving to a large impact crater nearby.

"We are intending to drive around the lander and beginning to drive to an area called Bonneville," Erickson said.

The hole cut into Adirondack is clearly distinguished in Spirit's imagery. Credit: NASA/JPL
Meanwhile on Opportunity, the rover has begun exploring the exposed bedrock features in the crater wall where the craft landed.

"On Opportunity today we just finished pretty much a great day," Erickson said. "We were basically acquiring images in preparation for driving, and using the instrument arm. We got some magnificent images through the Microscopic Imager of one of the areas we are in right now -- both soil and the first part of the outcrop."

The latest highly detailed microscopic images show the bizarre sphere-like materials as were seen in other patches of soil that Opportunity has examined in recent days.

"They are showing up both in the soil and in the outcrop," Erickson said.

Other imagery taken by Opportunity appears to show the backshell and parachute resting on the Meridiani plains outside the crater.

"We'll have to wait and see if that's really what's in the image," Erickson said.

A microscopic image of the rock outcrop taken by Opportunity on sol 15. Credit: NASA/JPL/Cornell/USGS
Download a larger image here

On the next workday, Sol 16 beginning Monday morning (U.S. time), the arm will be retracted and Opportunity will begin the multi-day drive along the bedrock to survey the features. Stops will be made for the science instruments to do their work.

"One of the things that science wants to weigh in on is exactly how often we stop as we cruise down the outcrop, examine it, and begin to set the overall context for what we will then return and take specific observations.

"I think of this as just cruising past the buffet and coming back and sampling later," Erickson quipped.

"We are beginning to do the long-term study of this rock outcrop, which is the first one we've ever seen on Mars. We will be here a while, taking lots of data trying to understand the area that it is in as well as the rock itself."

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