I had a great time traveling in August but I am so happy to be back in the saddle. I had real withdrawal symptoms while I was off doing other things and not always able to keep up with what's going on on Mars. I carried my laptop around, hungrily looking for wireless connections and internet cafes :)
In Zurich, at the Meteoritical Society meeting, I had a great time talking with some of our European APXS/MB colleagues including Christian Schroeder and Jutta Zipfel. We're all very excited that both rovers just uplinked a flight software update -an amazing thing to do so late in the mission - that includes some fantastic new capabilities for our little buddies. The most exciting thing for us IDD types is the ability to go-and-touch. Up til now, we need a full sol to approach a rock and downlink images from the hazard-avoidance cameras, then there's a human in the loop to assess the images and determine how safe it is to deploy and extend the arm out to touch a rock that we want to look at, then then next sol we uplink the touch command and can start taking data. Because of the vagaries of the planning process, this can actually take more than one sol sometimes. The new software will (hopefully) allow the rover to make an independent determination of a safe place to put the arm instruments and go and do it without us, saving us a sol (or more) of real time.
Also in Zurich, I found out to my surprise and infinite delight that the asteroid formerly known as 1981 EB28 is now officially 6816 Barbcohen! How cool is that! Read the UNM story about it here. It's only a tiny speck of a rock in the main belt, but this is where it was on Aug. 10, the day I found out!
You can see where it is any time by going here. Of course, Spirit and Opportunity already have theirs too!