Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Rovers are roving again

After many weeks of frustrating inactivity, the Spirit and Opportunity rovers have begun to tentatively wake from a slumber imposed by Mission Control to conserve energy while a planet wide dust storm raged. The storm is now showing some signs of abating, Opportunity is receiving some 230-240 watt hours of energy, while Spirit is getting 313 watt-hours of energy per day and has already made a short 42 centimetre drive. Spirit is now expected to begin the drive to Home Plate, an interesting geological feature that geologists believe may be the remains of a volcano. Opportunity meanwhile is poised to begin the long delayed descent into Victoria crater, a move that may well signal the end for the plucky little robot, as it may well not be able to climb back out again. Spirit is suffering from a layer of dust on the lens of the camera mounted on the end of the rover’s robotic arm and various options are under discussion to try and shake it off. In order to avoid the same problem occurring with Opportunity, the mission controllers are delaying opening the dust cover for now. The solar panels on both rovers may also become impacted by dust, as it begins to settle as the storm dies down, but it is hoped that gusts of wind that have previously helped cleanse the cameras may come to the rescue again.