Its solar panels are dusty and its instruments are weakening, but the intrepid Mars rover Opportunity is still undaunted. Today marks the rover’s eighth anniversary on the Red Planet, truly a feat for a mission that was designed to last a single season. As the rover embarks on its ninth year of work, it has some brand-new tasks that will give Mars scientists plenty to do long after it has beeped its last transmission home.
Amid all the excitement about the new Mars rover, some people (not us) might forget there's a functional one up there already, still driving around craters and snapping new photos. So why not take advantage of it? A new app delivers Mars photos straight from the Opportunity rover's most recent downlink to your smartphone.
We knew this day was coming, but it’s still never easy when days like today finally come: After more than a year of silence, NASA is ending its attempts to contact its Spirit rover, which has been dormant on the surface of Mars since its last communication with handlers on Earth since March 22, 2010.
NASA is preparing a flurry of new spacecraft launches, planetary flybys and orbital insertions in the next two years, and is celebrating the "Year of the Solar System" to mark the occasion. Twenty-three months is actually a Martian year, so hey, it works.
The space agency has dozens of missions at any given time, and scientists are always maneuvering some spacecraft into a new orbit or into a new trajectory. But the next two years will see triple the usual amount of activity, NASA says. The second half of 2011 will be as busy, space-wise, as entire decades of the space age, according to Jim Green, NASA's planetary science director.
NASA's Opportunity Rover, now in its seventh year of roaming the Martian surface, just got a little smarter. Like parents giving their growing child a little more autonomy, engineers updated Opportunity with artificial intelligence software this past winter that allows the rover to make its own decisions about where to stop and which rocks to analyze during its travels. Now the first images of Opportunity picking and choosing where to investigate have been released.