June 28, 2006

Wish you were here: 'Postcards from Mars,' signed, Spirit and Opportunity

"Postcards from Mars," the story of the Mars rover mission told in stunningly beautiful images with text by Jim Bell, Pancam lead scientist and Cornell associate professor of astronomy, is set for release on Nov. 16. The Pancam is the Cornell University-developed, mast-mounted panoramic camera on board the rovers Spirit and Opportunity. It has provided the clearest, most-detailed Martian landscapes ever viewed. To order "Postcards from Mars," go to http://www.postcardsfrommarsbook.com.

Meanwhile, back on the red planet, both rovers are still hard at work.

Spirit, now hunkered down for the winter on a low ridge in Gusev Crater, is operating on just 330 watt-hours per Martian day (compared with about 900 last summer) -- but still performing detailed stratigraphy and remote sensing work, as well as sending back a 360-degree panorama of its surroundings. "The nice characteristic [of being parked] is being able to plan ahead," says Steve Squyres, principal investigator for the NASA/JPL mission and Cornell Goldwin Smith Professor of Astronomy. "It's a wonderful luxury. While we're here, we're trying to take full advantage of being stationary. There's a whole category of things this payload is capable of that we've never done. We're doing a whole new category of science."

On the other side of the planet, Opportunity is still chugging south toward Victoria Crater (after a successful extraction from a dune called Jammerbugt). And both rovers are getting software upgrades that will allow them to identify images of dust devils and to do a maneuver called "go and touch": driving to an interesting target and releasing an instrument deployment device in one command cycle, instead of two.

Here's a look at some of the images the rovers have sent back during their more than 1,700 combined Martian days on the planet . . .