Planetary Scientist Steve Squyres Joins Blue Origin as Chief Scientist

Steven W. Squyres

Steve Squyres, who served as principal investigator for NASA’s Mars Exploration Rovers Spirit and Opportunity, is retiring from Cornell University to become chief scientist at Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin, the Cornell Chronicle reports.

“Cornell has been a wonderful place for me, as both a student and a professor. With the Mars rover missions behind us, it’s time for me to find a new challenge, but I will always be a proud Cornellian,” Squyres said.

“Scientist, scholar and space explorer, Steve transformed planetary exploration through his leadership of the Spirit and Opportunity Mars rovers,” said Jonathan I. Lunine, the David C. Duncan Professor in the Physical Sciences and chair of the Department of Astronomy. “Now he goes on to a new challenge, working to transform the architecture of spaceflight at one of the most innovative companies in the industry.”

[…]

“This mission [Spirit and Opportunity] was a great teaching tool,” Squyres said earlier this year for the celebration of the mission’s 15th anniversary. “It’s easy to think of science as a static body of knowledge that you learn from a textbook. It is not. We know more about Mars today than we knew two days ago. For years I’ve started each lecture with, ‘Here’s something that just came down from Mars.’”

“Steve has inspired countless students and colleagues over his decades at Cornell,” said Ray Jayawardhana, the Harold Tanner Dean of Arts and Sciences and professor of astronomy. “He brought Mars to campus and gave us all a chance to see another world close-up. His infectious enthusiasm for exploration will continue to stimulate planetary scientists at Cornell for years to come. We wish him all the best.”

NASA landed Spirit and Opportunity on Mars in January 2004 on nominal 90-day missions. Spirit last communicated with controllers on May 25, 2011 after more than seven years on the surface. Opportunity last communicated on June 10, 2018 as a dust storm engulfed the rover.

Taking a Look Back at Opportunity’s Record-Setting Mission

The tracks of Opportunity on Mars. (Credit: NASA)

PASADENA, Calif. (NASA/JPL-Caltech PR) — One of the most successful and enduring feats of interplanetary exploration, NASA’s Opportunity rover mission is at an end after almost 15 years exploring the surface of Mars and helping lay the groundwork for NASA’s return to the Red Planet.

In this image from 2010, Opportunity used its navigation camera for this northward view of tracks the rover left on a drive from one energy-favorable position on a sand ripple to another. The rover team called this strategy “hopping from lily pad to lily pad.”

The Opportunity rover stopped communicating with Earth when a severe Mars-wide dust storm blanketed its location in June 2018. After more than a thousand commands to restore contact, engineers in the Space Flight Operations Facility at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) made their last attempt to revive Opportunity Tuesday, to no avail. The solar-powered rover’s final communication was received June 10.

Designed to last just 90 Martian days and travel 1,100 yards (1,000 meters), Opportunity vastly surpassed all expectations in its endurance, scientific value and longevity. In addition to exceeding its life expectancy by 60 times, the rover traveled more than 28 miles (45 kilometers) by the time it reached its most appropriate final resting spot on Mars – Perseverance Valley.

The final transmission, sent via the 70-meter Mars Station antenna at NASA’s Goldstone Deep Space Complex in California, ended a multifaceted, eight-month recovery strategy in an attempt to compel the rover to communicate.

Opportunity landed in the Meridiani Planum region of Mars on Jan. 24, 2004, seven months after its launch from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. Its twin rover, Spirit, landed 20 days earlier in the 103-mile-wide (166-kilometer-wide) Gusev Crater on the other side of Mars. Spirit’s mission ended in 2011.

From the day Opportunity landed, a team of mission engineers, rover drivers and scientists on Earth collaborated to overcome challenges and get the rover from one geologic site on Mars to the next. They plotted workable avenues over rugged terrain so that the 384-pound (174-kilogram) Martian explorer could maneuver around and, at times, over rocks and boulders, climb gravel-strewn slopes as steep as 32-degrees (an off-Earth record), probe crater floors, summit hills and traverse possible dry riverbeds. Its final venture brought it to the western limb of Perseverance Valley.











NASA’s Record-Setting Opportunity Rover Mission on Mars Comes to End

The dramatic image of NASA’s Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity’s shadow was taken on sol 180 (July 26, 2004) by the rover’s front hazard-avoidance camera as the rover moved farther into Endurance Crater in the Meridiani Planum region of Mars. (Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

PASADENA, Calif. (NASA/JPL-Caltech PR) — One of the most successful and enduring feats of interplanetary exploration, NASA’s Opportunity rover mission is at an end after almost 15 years exploring the surface of Mars and helping lay the groundwork for NASA’s return to the Red Planet.

The Opportunity rover stopped communicating with Earth when a severe Mars-wide dust stormblanketed its location in June 2018. After more than a thousand commands to restore contact, engineers in the Space Flight Operations Facility at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) made their last attempt to revive Opportunity Tuesday, to no avail. The solar-powered rover’s final communication was received June 10.

(more…)











Rover Team Beaming New Commands to Opportunity on Mars

Opportunity’s panoramic camera (Pancam) took the component images for this view from a position outside Endeavor Crater during the span of June 7 to June 19, 2017. Toward the right side of this scene is a broad notch in the crest of the western rim of crater. (Credits: NASA/JPL (Caltech/Cornell/Arizona State Univ.)

PASADENA, Calif. (NASA PR) — Engineers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, have begun transmitting a new set of commands to the Opportunity rover in an attempt to compel the 15-year-old Martian explorer to contact Earth. The new commands, which will be beamed to the rover during the next several weeks, address low-likelihood events that could have occurred aboard Opportunity, preventing it from transmitting.

(more…)











Still No Word From NASA’s Opportunity Rover on Mars

Opportunity’s panoramic camera (Pancam) took the component images for this view from a position outside Endeavor Crater during the span of June 7 to June 19, 2017. Toward the right side of this scene is a broad notch in the crest of the western rim of crater. (Credits: NASA/JPL (Caltech/Cornell/Arizona State Univ.)

NASA Mission Update
Jet Propulsion Laboratory
Pasadena, Calif.

Updated at 2:15 p.m. PDT on Oct. 11, 2018

One month since increasing their commanding frequency, engineers have yet to hear from NASA’s Opportunity rover.

NASA hasn’t set any deadlines for the mission but will be briefed later this month on the progress and prospects for the recovery campaign being carried out at the agency’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.

JPL engineers are employing a combination of listening and commanding methods in case Opportunity is still operational. It’s possible that a layer of dust deposited on the rover’s solar panels by the recent global dust storm is blocking sunlight that could recharge its batteries. No one can tell just how much dust has been deposited on its panels.

A windy period on Mars — known to Opportunity’s team as “dust-clearing season” — occurs in the November-to-January time frame and has helped clean the rover’s panels in the past. The team remains hopeful that some dust clearing may result in hearing from the rover in this period.

Opportunity has exceeded its expected lifespan many times over. Both Opportunity and its twin, Spirit, were designed to last only 90 days on the Martian surface, with the expectation that the planet’s extreme winters and dust storms could cut their mission short. The rover has lasted nearly 15 years: It last communicated on June 10 before being forced into hibernation by the growing dust storm.











Still Silent Opportunity Rover Emerges From Martian Dust Storm

NASA’s Opportunity rover appears as a blip in the center of this square. This image taken by HiRISE, a high-resolution camera onboard NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, shows the dust storm over Perseverance Valley has substantially cleared. (Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Arizona)

PASADENA, Calif. (NASA PR) — NASA still hasn’t heard from the Opportunity rover, but at least we can see it again.

A new image produced by HiRISE, a high-resolution camera aboard NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO), shows a small object on the slopes of the Red Planet’s Perseverance Valley. That object is Opportunity, which was descending into the Martian valley when a dust storm swept over the region a little more than 100 days ago.

(more…)











Martian Skies Clearing over Opportunity Rover

About 11 months before the current dust storm enveloped the rover, Opportunity took five images that were turned into a mosaic showing a view from inside the upper end of “Perseverance Valley” on the inner slope of Endeavour Crater’s western rim. The images were taken on July 7, 2017. (Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

PASADENA, Calif. (NASA PR) — A planet-encircling dust storm on Mars, which was first detected May 30 and halted operations for the Opportunity rover, continues to abate.

With clearing skies over Opportunity’s resting spot in Mars’ Perseverance Valley, engineers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, believe the nearly 15-year-old, solar-powered rover will soon receive enough sunlight to automatically initiate recovery procedures — if the rover is able to do so. To prepare, the Opportunity mission team has developed a two-step plan to provide the highest probability of successfully communicating with the rover and bringing it back online.

(more…)











Martian Dust Storm Grows Global: Curiosity Captures Photos of Thickening Haze

In June 2018 NASA’s Curiosity Rover used its Mast Camera, or Mastcam, to snap photos of the intensifying haziness the surface of Mars, caused by a massive dust storm. The rover is standing inside Gale Crater looking out to the crater rim. The photos span about a couple of weeks, starting with a shot of the area before the storm appeared. (Credits: NASA)

GALE CRATER, Mars (NASA PR) — A storm of tiny dust particles has engulfed much of Mars over the last two weeks and prompted NASA’s Opportunity rover to suspend science operations. But across the planet, NASA’s Curiosity rover, which has been studying Martian soil at Gale Crater, is expected to remain largely unaffected by the dust. While Opportunity is powered by sunlight, which is blotted out by dust at its current location, Curiosity has a nuclear-powered battery that runs day and night.

The Martian dust storm has grown in size and is now officially a “planet-encircling” (or “global”) dust event.

(more…)











NASA Encounters the Perfect Storm for Science

These two views from NASA’s Curiosity rover, acquired specifically to measure the amount of dust inside Gale Crater, show that dust has increased over three days from a major Martian dust storm. The left-hand image shows a view of the east-northeast rim of Gale Crater on June 7, 2018 (Sol 2074); the right-hand image shows a view of the same feature on June 10, 2018 (Sol 2077). The images were taken by the rover’s Mastcam. (Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS)

PASADENA, Calif. (NASA PR) — One of the thickest dust storms ever observed on Mars has been spreading for the past week and a half. The storm has caused NASA’s Opportunity rover to suspend science operations, but also offers a window for four other spacecraft to learn from the swirling dust.

NASA has three orbiters circling the Red Planet, each equipped with special cameras and other atmospheric instruments. Additionally, NASA’s Curiosity rover has begun to see an increase in dust at its location in Gale Crater.

(more…)











Long-Lived Mars Rover Opportunity Keeps Finding Surprises

Textured rows on the ground in this portion of “Perseverance Valley” are under investigation by NASA’s Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity, which used its Navigation Camera to take the component images of this downhill-looking scene. The rover reaches its 5,000th Martian day, or sol, on Feb. 16, 2018. (Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

PASADENA, Calif. (NASA PR) — NASA’s Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity keeps providing surprises about the Red Planet, most recently with observations of possible “rock stripes.”

The ground texture seen in recent images from the rover resembles a smudged version of very distinctive stone stripes on some mountain slopes on Earth that result from repeated cycles of freezing and thawing of wet soil. But it might also be due to wind, downhill transport, other processes or a combination.

(more…)











Opportunity Hits 5,000 Days on Mars

NASA’s Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity recorded the dawn of the rover’s 4,999th Martian day, or sol, with its Panoramic Camera (Pancam) on Feb. 15, 2018, yielding this processed, approximately true-color scene. (Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Cornell/Arizona State Univ./Texas A&M)

PASADENA, Calif. (NASA PR) — The Sun rose on NASA’s solar-powered Mars rover Opportunity for the 5,000th time on Saturday, sending rays of energy to a golf-cart-size robotic field geologist that continues to provide revelations about the Red Planet.

(more…)











Opportunity Records Environmental Changes on Mars

NASA Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity used its navigation camera to take the images combined into this full-circle view of the rover's surroundings on the 1,506th through 1,510th Martian days, or sols, of Opportunity's mission on Mars (April 19-23, 2008). South is at the center; north is at both ends.
NASA Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity used its navigation camera to take the images combined into this full-circle view of the rover's surroundings on the 1,506th through 1,510th Martian days, or sols, of Opportunity's mission on Mars (April 19-23, 2008). South is at the center; north is at both ends.

NASA MISSION UPDATE

One of NASA’s two Mars rovers has recorded a compelling saga of environmental changes that occurred over billions of years at a Martian crater.

The Mars rover, Opportunity, surveyed the rim and interior of Victoria Crater on the Red Planet from September 2006 through August 2008. Key findings from that work, reported in the May 22 edition of the journal Science, reinforce and expand what researchers learned from Opportunity’s exploration of two smaller craters after landing on Mars in 2004.

(more…)











Happy Fifth Birthdays to Spirit and Opportunity on Mars

NASA MISSION UPDATE

NASA rovers Spirit and Opportunity may still have big achievements ahead as they approach the fifth anniversaries of their memorable landings on Mars.

Of the hundreds of engineers and scientists who cheered at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., on Jan. 3, 2004, when Spirit landed safely, and 21 days later when Opportunity followed suit, none predicted the team would still be operating both rovers in 2009.

(more…)











JPL Diagnoses Balky Shoulder Joint on Opportunity Rover

NASA PRESS RELEASE

A small motor in the robotic arm of NASA’s Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity that began stalling occasionally more than two years ago has become more troublesome recently.

Rover engineers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., are diagnosing why the motor, one of five in the robotic arm, stalled on April 14 after much less motion that day than in the case of several earlier stalls. They are also examining whether the motor can be used and assessing the impact on Opportunity’s work if the motor were no longer usable.

The motor controls sideways motion at the shoulder joint of the rover robotic arm. Other motors provide up-and-down motion at the shoulder and maneuverability at the elbow and wrist. A turret at the end of the arm has four tools that the arm places in contact with rocks and soils to study their composition and texture.

“Even under the worst-case scenario for this motor, Opportunity still has the capability to do some contact science with the arm,” said JPL’s John Callas, project manager for the twin rovers Opportunity and Spirit. “The vehicle has quite a bit of versatility to continue the high-priority investigations in Victoria Crater and back out on the Meridiani plains after exiting the crater.”

(more…)











Carnival of Space 47: Artificial Gravity in Orbit, Rovers on Mars, and Life on Titan

The Martian Chronicles blog is hosting Carnival of Space 47, a collection of links to articles on a variety of space topics. The stories include:

  • An article by Darnell Clayton at Colony Worlds speculating about whether Bigelow Aerospace could alter the design of its planned space station to accommodate artificial gravity;
  • Animation of NASA’s Spirit rover scurrying around on the surface of Mars;
  • A summary of the science that would have been lost had NASA gone ahead with budget cuts in the Spirit and Opportunity programs;
  • Paul Gilster’s musings about possible life in an ocean below Titan’s frozen surface.