Welcome…

… to the “The Road To Endeavour”, a blog dedicated to following the ongoing mission of the Mars Exploration Rover ‘Opportunity’ as she explores the rim of the giant martian crater ‘Endeavour’!

Opportunity – or “Oppy” as many rover enthusiasts call her – landed on Mars eight years ago, and it was hoped at the time that she’d last maybe 90 days and drive up to a kilometre across the surface of Mars. Eight years later, having survived dust storms, mechanical problems and everything Mars can throw at her, Oppy is still working, and after driving to and studying several smaller craters further north, near her original landing site, she’s now studying a huge crater called “Endeavour”, analysing the rocks and dust there, trying to figure out if that part of Mars was once wetter, and warmer, and maybe even a possible habitat for life. Every day she takes, and sends back to Earth, photographs of the martian landscape, and this is where you’ll find them – original images and many I create myself, by stitching together raw images, colourising them or turning pairs of them into 3D “anaglyphs” which can give you the impresion of being *on* Mars…

This is actually a blog I wasn’t planning to write. I was planning on starting up a blog dedicated to the Mars Science Laboratory – NASA’s next mission to Mars – but when it was announced back in December 2008 the launch of MSL (the “Mars Science Laboratory”, or “Curiosity” to give her her proper name) had been put back from 2009 to 2011, so this is Plan B: a blog that I hoped would turn into a kind of travelogue, first following Opportunity’s long, loooong drive south to Endeavour crate and then chronicling her adventures once she got there – IF she got there…

Well, she not only got there, but since getting there she’s done some amazing science – and the best may yet be to come…

So, here’s the place to come for images of Endeavour Crater, as seen by Mars Reconaissance Orbiter and other probes, and by Oppy herself. It’s not meant to be serious, or particularly scientific, just a place to come for some interesting pictures and news updates, really. I hope you like what you find here, and keep checking for new images. 🙂

Stuart Atkinson

@mars-stu on Twitter

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Opportunity on walkabout…

Time (at last!) for an update on what Opportunity has been up to as she prepares to drive down into Perseverance Valley.

Since the last post, Oppy’s team has been working hard to resolve the issue with the front wheel that suddenly refused to turn, and reports from NASA suggest that the wheel is now moving again which must be a huge relief; a stuck wheel wouldn’t have ended Opportunity’s mission – one of Spirit’s wheels jammed, remember, and that didn’t prevent her from continuing her exploration and studies of Homeplate and the features around it (it even led to at least one totally accidental discovery!) – but it obviously would have affected what, and how much she could do down in the valley, and would not have been a welcome development at all. But the wheel is moving again, and Opportunity is now continuing a prolonged “walkabout” around the entrance to Perseverance Valley, wandering to and fro, taking lots of pictures and measurements, basically checking the area out in great detail.

Here’s a map from a recent NASA bulletin showing Opportunity’s meandering path over the past few weeks, since arriving in the vicinity of the valley, and the path she will now take to the valley entrance…

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This is what geologists do here on Earth. When studying a feature they make a detailed survey of the area and other features around it, to see the main feature they want to study in context. Doing this helps them to understand the dynamics of the area, the processes and events that have happened there, why things look the way they do, etc etc. The MER team has sent Opportunity on this walkabout above Perseverance Valley to try and figure out what formed the valley in the first place, how it fits in to the history of Endeavour Crater, and what they might actually find when they get down into the valley itself. And it’s important they do a really detailed survey of the area above and around the valley because once Opportunity drives down that slope she is not coming back up again, at least not back up to where she is now; she is going to work her way down the valley and then drive out onto the crater floor (really looking forward to that!) before heading further south, leaving Perseverance Valley behind.

But the descent into the valley isn’t going to happen for a little while yet; soon Opportunity will have to enter a “go slow” period as Earth passes close to the Sun as seen from Mars (see graphic below, the blue dot shows how close to the Sun Earth will be in the sky in late July), and communications between Oppy and her terrestrial controllers become very limited…

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But don’t worry, once this “solar conjunction” is over Opportunity will get back to doing what she does best – roving and exploring….! Here’s a rough overview of where she is now, and where she will be going…

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This past week or so Opportunity has sent back LOTS of pictures of the scenery around the entrance to the valley but I’ve had a really – and I mean really! – hard time getting them to stitch together with the software I use. I’ve had more luck with individual views though, and here are some of those…

 

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Finally for this post, Curiosity has been sending back some lovely pictures too. Here’s a mosaic I put together from some of them… love the complicated geology visible in this view…

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I’ve said it before and I don’t mind saying it again: the great photographer Ansel Adams would have LOVED photographing Mars… 🙂

Check back soon for more news from Meridiani Planum. In the meantime, here’s your regular reminder of just how incredible an achievement it is for Opportunity to still be driving around Mars… 😉

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A problem with Opportunity..?

Hmmm. Maybe. We’ll see. It might be nothing. Nobody panic, ok? We’ll just keep an eye on this, reported in NASA’s own regular “status update” on our amazing rover…

On Sol 4750 (June 4, 2017), the plan was to perform a short, tight backward arc, but the left-front steering actuator stalled. With the left-front wheel steered to more than 30 degrees from straight, the focus of the team is first to assess whether this stall was a terrain related phenomenon. So, on Sol 4752 (June 6, 2017), the rover arced back without steering the left-front wheel and imaged the location of the steering stall. Although there is evidence to suggest a terrain effect, it is not conclusive. The next step will be a careful attempt to straighten the left-front wheel. The plan on Sol 4754 (June 8, 2017) is to gently turn the wheel straight.

Translation? Oppy’s left front wheel is stalled, stuck at an angle off to one side, but they’re going to try to straighten it. As I said, don’t panic, it might be nothing. It probably IS nothing.

Anyway, apologies for the lack of posts for a week or so (did anyone notice? Hello? Is anyone out there???) but we were away on holiday, camping up in the rain-lashed, wind-battered, midge-infested Highlands of Scotland, a place as opposite as it possible to get from the land Opportunity is exploring (and yes, that’s our tent on the right on the bottom picture)…

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While we were away I kept up to date with Opportunity’s adventures – I still have to stop myself shaking my head with wonder when I’m curled up in my sleeping bag, late at night, listening to the wind howling and the rain hissing against the tent, looking at my phone, seeing images taken on Mars just a few hours earlier! – and as soon as we got back I set to work making some new colourised images out of the raw black and white images that came back in my absence, and here they are…

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More soon, stay tuned for the latest news about Oppy’s wheel…

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Lingering on the edge…

It looks like Opportunity STILL hasn’t set off down into Perseverance Valley yet, but is taking a lot of photos of her surroundings, and the route ahead instead. I can’t imagine it will be long now before she revvs up and heads down-slope towards the Valley, but I was saying that a week ago so we’ll just have to wait and see, I guess.

In the meantime, here are some images I’ve made recently (click to enlarge, as ever), including what I think are some really nice views of Opportunity’s tracks on the dusty landscape. I always love seeing those…

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Meanwhile, many miles away, CURIOSITY has been taking some very pretty pictures too, showing rocks with lots of lovely layers…

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Stay on target…

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Well, Opportunity still hasn’t started to explore Perseverance Valley yet… it seems she’s taking another good long look at it before setting off. And that’s ok, she deserves a rest, and it makes perfect sense to make a detailed study of the gully and plan the next few moves before starting into it.

I’m looking forward to seeing the valley from closer up, tho. The views we have at the moment are quite… yes, I’ll say it… dull. We’re seeing it at a very oblique angle, which means we can’t see the channels and ridges of the feature. When Opportunity gets a bit closer we will, tho, I’m sure. In the meantime, here a few of my recent processed images…

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By way of contrast (and yes, to fill out this post!) here are a couple of processed images from Curiosity, which is currently taking a look at some VERY thin fragile-looking rock structures… as usual, click to enlarge…

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Get in there, Oppy…!

It seems my previous post was a bit premature and Opportunity *hasn’t* started down into Perseverance Valley yet, but is lingering at the top of the slope, taking a look at the valley before heading down into it…

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A load of images came back today showing the view down-slope, but none of the software packages or websites I use could stitch them into a decent image. Instead I had to paste them manually into a single long image, which turned out hideously, but here you go… you have been warned…

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But it does show that Opportunity has drive to the edge of a very small ledge to the upper left of the valley, so she can take a proper look at it and work out how to get to it safely…

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So where has Oppy decided to take a breather at? Approximately… here…

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Original image: Sean Doran, used with permission

 

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Perseverance Valley beckons…

Looking at her wheel tracks on the latest images I think… I *think*… Opportunity has turned towards the entrance to Perseverance Valley and is starting to move towards it or even into it…

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If that’s the case then Opportunity has begin an exciting new stage of her already-amazing adventure on Mars!

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So… Opportunity is going into the valley… seems appropriate to play this piece of classical music to mark the occasion… After all these years I still can’t make out a single word he’s saying, as he jigs about, arms flailing, like a drunk bank clerk at the branch Chrustmas Party, but it’s a BRILLIANT song…

 

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On the edge…

Opportunity has reached the entrance to Perseverance Valley, and like any good explorer about to start a new adventure is now taking a good look around her, and looking down into the valley itself, before starting on the next leg of her journey.

As I suspected, the view down into the valley from its entrance is less than dramatic – no steep walls, no debris-littered floor, no meandering channels, but quite a few dust dunes which Oppy will have to be careful driving through or around. I’m sure the scenery will get more impressive as Opportunity works her way down the gully.

Here are some views I processed over the past few days…

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Here’s one of my favourite views for a long time – the ramp-like landscape feature they’ve called “Winnemucca”…

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So, where is Opportunity now? About… here… I think…

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… but that’s just me guessing, don’t bet your house on it 🙂

When will Oppy start to drive down into the Valley? Don’t think it will be long, so check back soon…

 

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