I think it’s outright amazing, and a testament to the design and implementation skills of the people at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, that the Martian rovers are still operating 465 and 445 days into their respective missions on the surface of the Red Planet. (Remember, these little guys were only designed to last for 90 days!) Spirit and Opportunity long-ago eclipsed all of their original performance goals; for example, Opportunity has driven over three and a quarter miles, and Spirit has gone over two and a half miles, when the initial expectation was for both to max out around three-eights of a mile. (To be fair, partial credit for the unexpected longevity of the little robots rests with what NASA calls “cleaning events”, or unexpected winds that have periodically blown dust off of the rovers’ solar panels and boosted their ability to recharge their batteries.) No matter the cause, it’s all reassuring enough to NASA that the agency extended support for Spirit and Opportunity for 18 additional months, which (hopefully) means a lot more neat discoveries and cool pictures over the coming year and a half.

Browsing through the images that are new since the last time I hit the mission website, there are a few fascinating movies that are worth watching: the first 343 days through the eyes of Spirit, and the first 323 days through the eyes of Opportunity. Two weeks ago, Spirit also captured a few pictures of dust devils scooting across the surface of Mars (which wasn’t the first time, but certainly was the closest and clearest view of them). And two months ago, Opportunity paused long enough to snap a true-color shot of the impact and debris of its own heat shield. Around the same time, both rovers snapped self-portraits (images that must have caused the JPL engineers to just beam with pride).

I can’t wait to see what the rovers share with us over the next year!


My experience as a NASA contractor tells me that the 90-day survival requirement was there as a barrier only to provide for good radiation shielding, etc. The only real limiting factor on either of these rovers, like anything else for extraterrestrial robotic locomotion, is power.

‘Tis quite impressive, though. :)

• Posted by: Geof F. Morris on Apr 24, 2005, 6:08 PM
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