But ignorance is bliss, and while Opportunity's wheels had a hard time gaining traction on the sandy surface, the rover's brain (or computer) had a hard time grasping that it hadn't successfully made it to its target. The little rover didn't have to encourage itself to make it up the crater slope later by chanting, "I think I can, I think I can," because the little rover thought it actually did make it up the slope the first time.Image left: Opportunity failed to complete the first big climb of the outcrop on February 8 due to the wheels slipping up the martian slope. Credit: NASA/JPL.
"Like a car on Earth, each Mars rover uses an odometer to click off the distance its wheels travel to measure and register how far the vehicle has moved," explains Randy Lindemann, rover mobility lead. One revolution of the rover wheel equals 80 centimeters or 2.6 feet, so after the wheels have revolved four times, the rover believes that it has moved forward 320 centimeters or 10.5 feet (80 centimeters X 4 = 320 centimeters).
Alas, Opportunity's wheels had a hard time grasping onto the sandy ground around the crater and the wheels spun in place before they actually gained tracking. "As Opportunity's wheels turned and ticked off 80 centimeters (2.6 feet) each revolution, they eventually spun four times, calculating to what it thought was a distance of 320 centimeters (10.5 feet). Thus, Opportunity believed it had reached its goal, when in reality, it had spun in place 50 percent of the revolutions and only really made it 160 centimeters (5.25 feet)," said Lindemann.Outwitting the Odometer
In order to prevent any future missed targets,
Opportunity's mobility experts quickly started
trying to predict exactly how far the rover
would slip down a slope or fall short of a
target while climbing up a slope due to the
loose terrain along the steep angles of the
crater wall. "Since the rover isn't on cruise
control and can't rev its engine to get some
extra oompf to go up a hill, we continually
have to outwit Opportunity's odometer and command
the rover to go farther or shorter than the
real target distance," said Rover Driver Eric
Image left: Rover Driver Eric Baumgartner in action, making commands for one of Opportunity's drives. Rover Drivers join scientists in daily Science Operations Working Group meetings to create rover plans in real-time. Credit: NASA/JPL.