Rocks, hills, dust… and more rocks

As we wrap up the final few minutes of May 2005, I thought it would be appropriate to bring up some news from the beginning of April: the Mars rover mission has been extended.

NASA has announced that it would fund operations through September 2006. The durability of the robotic explorers seems to have played a part.

Spirit and Opportunity were originally designed for a three-month effort. Engineers knew all along that if nothing unexpected happened, they could last longer. But few expected them to be still roving after more than 14 months.

Now, as the rovers pass 16 months of operation, they are still performing admirably in spite of some setbacks. In fact, there’s hope that the rovers will be operational when the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter arrives in March 2006.

One question that’s on my mind – if a planet-engulfing dust storm obscures most of the sunlight, could these intrepid machines survive?

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