This weekend, I'm volunteering to help move Spirit along. We've just passed the autumnal exuinox on Mars and are sliding into winter, which means the sun is getting low on the horizon and Spirit needs to start tilting toward it. The team has decided to have Spirit winter over on the north side of Home Plate, this great volcanic feature we've been investigating for a while now. We were hoping to get to more exotic territory before Spirit had to stop for the winter, but this year was compounded by the huge summer dust storms - remember when that howling wind actually cleaned the solar panels off? Well, as they say, what goes up must come down, and Mars dust is no exception. Spirit's solar panels are now coated in dust and as the amount of sun and heat declines, so does hope for dust devils. The thick coating of dust has reduced power on Spirit even in advance of the wintertime.
Adding urgency to our mission to keep Spirit safe and healthy is the fact that the rover got trapped in a sand pit on top of Home Plate for a week or so. The always-skillful rover planners extricated Spirit and now she is perched on the edge of the world - as you can see in this Navcam image. Now we're doing some short drives along the edge to map out the slopes and rocks and find a good place for Spirit to slide down the edge and achieve a pretty exciting 25 degree northerly tilt. We're hoping that the tilt and a power conserving winter plan will allow Spirit to survive the depths of a second Martian winter and go on to explore more of Mars come springtime.
The truth is, I really miss spending my time with the rovers, so I'm more than happy to come in on the weekend and get back into the guts of operations. It's also very cool that the many other people it takes to plan a rover drive sol are willing to come in on their days off to make this work. This is the second weekend in a row that the JPL engineers and the science staff came in to shepherd Spirit along. Big love to all of them!