Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Opportunity scouts Victoria crater

With the dust storms that threatened the Opportunity and Spirit rovers now abated sufficiently to resume operations, the Opportunity rover has taken a first cautious drive into Victoria crater. The crater, measuring approximately one half-mile across and about 200 to 230 feet (70 meters) deep has been a top target for the rover for quite some time. Within the crater, about 40 feet (12.2 meters) below the rim, is a bright band of rocks that is intriguing scientists and which they hope will provide another revealing glimpse into the history of the planet. But this may be a one-way trip for the rover. Once in, it may not be able to get back out again, though there is plenty to explore inside the crater. Opportunity did not drive all the way in on this occasion, but far enough in -- about four meters (13 feet) -- to get all six wheels past the crater rim. Then it backed uphill for about three meters (10 feet). Commands were relayed to the rover to stop driving if the wheels suffered more than 40% slippage. This did indeed happen, so the rover automatically stopped and it is now perched on the rim with just the front wheels over the edge. Mission scientists will now examine the telemetry received back and plan how best to get Opportunity all the way safely.