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Opportunity Nearly Ready To Attempt First Drive Out Of Dune

MER-B is currently bogged in a small dune.
by Steve Squyres
Ithica NY (SPX) May 05, 2005
We've made some substantial progress over the past week in getting ready to get Opportunity out of the drift that she's driven into. All the action so far has been on Earth, doing testing with the two rovers we have on this planet.

It's been nasty work... shovel-and-wheelbarrow stuff, moving around literally tons of fine-grained soil. Rob Sullivan from the science team came up with a "recipe" for a soil mix that rather nicely matches the properties of what we've gotten ourselves into on Mars.

Jeff Beisadecki has led the charge from the engineering side, pulling some very long hours in the testbed driving the rovers into and out of the dirt, working out the best way to do it on Mars.

We're still testing, and it's going to be a few more days, at least, before we're ready to try anything on Mars. So patience is still necessary. But there are some very good people out at JPL working very hard on this problem, and I remain optimistic that we're going to be out of this stuff and on our way again before too long.

Over at Gusev crater, wonderful things have been happening. We took an enormous Microscopic Imager mosaic on Keystone recently: 4000 by 6000 pixels, the most MI frames we've ever taken on a single rock. The resulting mosaic is stunning, and it reveals Keystone to be finely layered and with a strange porous texture.

The big surprise, for me at least, was the composition. I was expecting Keystone (and by inference all of Methuselah) to be rich in sulfates, like the rocks called Peace and Alligator that we found some time ago.

I based this expectation on the fact that Keystone looked a bit like Peace and Alligator in the MI images. Instead, Keystone turns out to have a composition much like Wishstone, a massive-looking piece of loose rock that we encountered during our climb to Larry's Lookout.

Like Wishstone (and like Larry's Lookout) Keystone has lots of titanium and lots of phosphorous in it... a distinctive chemical "fingerprint" that many of the rocks on this side of Husband Hill seem to share.

The really good news is that we now have emerging the first true stratigraphy that we've seen in the Columbia Hills... a suite of stratified rocks that we can put together into a time-ordered sequence and work out a history of geologic events. We don't have the whole story yet, but it's really coming together now. I'm hoping to be able to report on it at the American Geophysical Union meeting that's coming up in New Orleans in a few weeks.

In order to add to our emerging understanding of this stratigraphy, we've planned out our moves with Spirit for what'll probably be the next couple of weeks. We're just now finishing up some arm work on "Pittsburgh", another target on Methuselah.

After that, we're going to leave Methuselah and head back to an outcrop named Jibsheet that we passed by on our way up the hill. And after we've learned what we can there, the plan is to head back toward Larry's Lookout once more, this time circling around toward the eastern side of the Lookout. There are some rocks there, down low on the outcrop, that we have become very interested in...

Related Links
Mars Rovers at JPL
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Stuck In A Martian Sand Pit
Pasadena CA (JPL) May 03, 2005
The Opportunity team continues working with an engineering test rover on Earth to determine the safest way to attempt to drive the rover out of the dune where it's currently parked on Mars. In the meantime, Opportunity is collecting science data with its instruments and cameras.

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