NASA Podcasts

Mars Exploration Rover Update
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Ashley Stroupe: I'm Ashley Stroupe...

Title: Ashley Stroupe, Mars Rover Driver

Stroupe: of the drivers for the Mars Rovers Spirit and Opportunity and I'm here with the latest rover update.

Spirit has been having some real challenges lately. After making some good progress towards her science targets, von Braun Hill and Goddard Depression...

Titles: Von Braun Hill, Goddard Depression

Stroupe: ...she experienced a two week period with some problems. She missed some wakeups, rebooted unexpectedly several times, and had some difficulties accessing her FLASH memory. Then, just as she got back on the road, she slipped into some loose, soft soil and is now partly embedded. This embedding is made even more complicated by the fact that the rover is at a sharp tilt to the side and there're some rocks underneath the rover. One of these rocks may be contacting the belly of the rover, and causing us some additional friction. Another one may be wedged against the left middle wheel, and be the cause of a recent stall we saw on that wheel.

The team is doing a lot of analysis and ground-based testing to try to understand Spirit's situation and figure out how best to get her out of it. This process has also been a little bit difficult because we've been having some technical problems with the test system.

The public has been giving us tremendous support. Many of you have even sent us ideas on how to get Spirit out, including this idea sent to us by 7-year-old Julian, to use the robotic arm to help lift us out. While the robotic arm isn't strong enough to lift the rover, even on Mars, we are putting it to good use.
Titles: Underside of Spirit rover. Focus is soft because microscopic camera is designed to focus on items very close to its lens.

Stroupe: We recently used the microscopic camera on the arm to take pictures underneath the rover. We're seeing parts of the vehicle that haven't been seen since she left Earth six years ago. But most importantly, we're now able to have a much better understanding of Spirit's situation...

Titles: Wheel rock? Wheel

Stroupe: ...and we're going to put that to really good use when we figure out how to get her out.

Happily, Spirit has also had some really great surprises recently. She's had several dust-cleaning events of her solar panels, courtesy of the Martian winds. Her solar panels, which were 75 per cent dust covered only 2 months ago, are now less than 20 per cent covered. Her power levels have increased to more than four times the minimum we saw during winter! This gives her a much better chance of reaching her next science target and of surviving yet a fourth winter on Mars.

Title: Landing Site

Stroupe: Meanwhile, on the other side of the planet, Opportunity is doing quite well...

Title: Victoria Crater

Stroupe: ...and making great progress towards Endeavour crater in the southeast.

Title: 10 mile mark

Stroupe: She's even reached some major milestones. On sol 1899, she passed the 10-mile mark.

Title: Endeavour Crater

Stroupe: Now we are seeing some slightly elevated electrical currents on the right front wheel, but we've developed some strategies that seem to keep those currents low. We're driving sometimes forward and sometimes backwards. We also are taking shorter drives and taking more extended rests between drives. In the next couple of weeks, we have a big decision to make. This decision involves whether to take a shorter path that goes through some very tall sand ripples or a longer path that takes us more safely around those ripples. We could be reaching Endeavour crater as early as the fall of 2010 and we really look forward to seeing what we discover there.

I'm Ashley Stroupe and this is your rover report.

Title: NASA, Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology

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