On July 7th, the Mars Opportunity Rover celebrated the 10 year anniversary of it’s launch from Earth along with it’s sister rover Spirit, which sadly died on Mars in 2010.
Originally expected to operate for only 3 months, Opportunity is well past this mark and shows no signs of letting up.
The little rover that could is on it’s way to a new crater, a 1.2 mile (2 kilometer) trek from the area it’s been studying for the past 22 months. It’s mission clock is at 9 years and counting, it will celebrate it’s 10 year mark on it’s mission timer in January 2014 (having landed January 2004).
Opportunity has traveled over 22 miles currently, and is well on it’s way to breaking the worldwide extraterrestrial driving record set by the Soviet robotic moon rover Lunokhod 2 in 1973 of 26 miles.
As stated right here on Nerditronics previously, it was believed that Lunokhod 2 traveled 23 miles, however new data shows that it traveled about 3 miles further than previously thought.
Not too bad for a little rover that was supposed to go offline over 9 years ago.
BBC News has an article stating that scientists now have definitive proof that many of the landscapes seen on Mars were indeed cut by flowing water.
Researchers have found rounded pebbles in the Gale Crater on Mars.
“Big deal they found rounded rocks!” you might be saying. Well these pebbles’ smooth appearance is identical to pebbles found in rivers here on Earth. Now when rock fragments roll on the bottom of of a stream of water will have their edges knocked off, thus rounding them. Eventually they will come to a rest in a characteristic overlapping pattern.
The Curiosity rover has photographic proof of rocks with these exact characteristics; thus proving that flowing water had a part in shaping the martian landscape.
Due to the position of the planets the Curiosity rover was pretty much left on it’s own for a month, space.com reports. This happens once every couple years and generally lasts for a few weeks to a month.
The main worry is that if they try to send a command to the rovers while this Mars Conjunction is going on it may not get all the data, and think it needs to blow itself up or become self aware or something. OK so maybe nothing that bad would happen, but it could cause the rovers to fall off a cliff or something.
Check out the article here, which has a pretty cool short video that explains what’s going on.
Space.com reported the other day that in a new agreement NASA will now foot the entire bill to ramp up our Plutonium-238 production. Originally the bill was going to split between the U.S. Energy Department and NASA, however as NASA is the only expected user of the Pu-238 they’ve been told they’ll now foot the entire bill.
Now this may not seem like too big of a deal but keep in mind, that we as a country, have not produced any Pu-238 in over 25 years. Now this is not used for bombs, it’s the wrong type of fuel, Pu-238 is used to fuel deep space probes (Voyager 1 and 2), and even some long running rovers (Curiosity).
Since the U.S. stopped producing it’s own, we’ve been getting our Pu-238 from Russia. Our last shipment was in 2010 and we’re starting to run out. Add to this that NASA is being tasked with getting deeper and deeper into space, we’ll need more Plutonium-238 sooner rather than later. This restart will cost an estimated $75 million to $90 million.