OPPORTUNITY UPDATE: Edging Out of 'Endurance' - sol 292-298, December 06, 2004
Opportunity has completed its super-high-resolution imaging and other remote sensing operations from the base of "Burns Cliff," collecting more than 985 megabits of telemetry. Due to the large number of observations, the data management team has been working hard to manage available memory. Opportunity has now begun its journey out of "Endurance Crater." While in the crater, Opportunity has experienced drive slippage of up to 100 percent and tilts as high as 31.05 degrees. The rover was pushed to its traverse limits, but continued to perform all that was asked of it. Opportunity remains in excellent health. Solar power is nearly as high now as it was at the beginning of the mission.
Having made its closest approach to Burns Cliff, Opportunity continued its remote science campaign on sol 292. In the morning and early afternoon, the rover captured a portion of a color panorama plus images of targets called "Cushion" and "Bartlett." During these observations, Opportunity applied some of its excess energy to engage in an hour-long direct-to-earth communications session, downlinking an extra 10 megabits or so. Waking up the next morning at 7:18 local solar time, the rover heated cameras and actuators in advance of looking for clouds.
Sols 293 through 295 were planned together as a three-sol plan, continuing the panorama. Other observations included navigation camera imaging to fill holes in prior image coverage, panoramic camera atmospheric imaging while the Sun was high in the sky, and miniature thermal emission spectrometer imaging of targets "Ebony," "Ivory," and Cushion. Another direct-to-earth communications session was scheduled for midday on sol 293. On sols 293 and 294, the rover finished the remote science campaign, completing the panorama.
On sol 295, for the first time in 10 sols, Opportunity was on the move, beginning a trek out of Endurance Crater. The planned traverse had two parts, with the second leg to be driven only if the rover was on track after the first leg. Opportunity drove 3.6 meters (about 12 feet), determined that it was sufficiently close to a designated waypoint, and then continued for another 3.6 meters (about 12 feet). At the completion of the drive, the rover updated information about its attitude and position.
Opportunity continued its westward journey on sol 296, performing an 11-meter (36-foot) drive on flat rocky terrain that provides good traction for the rover. The drive succeeded as planned, leaving the vehicle perfectly in the middle of its intended path. Opportunity then performed two hours of post-drive observations. At this point, there appeared to be a possible shortcut out of the crater, just about 13 meters (about 43 feet) in front of Opportunity. If traversable, this early egress chute could shorten the vehicle's exit route by more than 30 meters (about 98 feet) and many sols. In response to this possibility, the team planned further investigation of the chute area.
Sols 297 through 299 and sols 300 through 302 were planned as two consecutive three-sol plans due to the Thanksgiving holiday on Earth. Commands for sols 297, 298 and 299 were uplinked on Tuesday (Nov. 23) and commands for sols 300 through 302 were uplinked the next day. The planning team went above and beyond to deliver six sol plans in two Earth days.
The plan for sol 297 included a drive west for about 13 meters (43 feet) to a relativity flat area. This location would afford a good view of the possible egress chute and allow the robotic arm to be deployed so the Mossbauer spectrometer could be placed on the filter magnet and perform four sols of data collection. The drive stopped early because Opportunity slipped more than anticipated and missed an intermediate waypoint. The drive covered 8.6 meters (about 28 feet). However, imaging after the drive allowed a detailed analysis of the possible shortcut.
To make an early exit, Opportunity would have had to cross terrain sloping 28 degrees. The opening of the chute is 1.14 meters (about 4 feet) wide, and there appears to be tall rock outcropping very close to the opening. On the route to the originally planned exit path at "Keratepe," where Opportunity entered the crater six months ago, the average slope is only 22 degrees and there are no large obstacles to avoid. So the decision was made to skip the shortcut and continue toward Karatepe.
Total odometry after sol 297 is 1736.22 meters (1.08 miles).