When I sit at my computer, part of my morning routine is to check the MER RAW images downloaded during the night.
This morning was different, the images from Opportunity shows that the robot could be in big trouble. It looks like it’s well sink into soft sandy material. I’ve been following this mission since day one and this is the first time I felt like an obstacle got the better of a MER robot.
Look at these two pictures from the front and back Hazcam:
It looks like the last traverse was done backward and the last few meters were soft sandy material where the rover was slipping a lot. You can see in the Front-Hazcam picture the change in the rover’s tracks. It goes from the normal pattern (little to no slippage and the wheels/lander interface marking at every wheel turn) to a slippage pattern with the disturbed loose dirt (the kind we see when the rover dig a trench). The front and back wheels are now 50% to 80% in the ground. The middle wheels can’t be seen (unless they do some cool new move with the MicroImager) but I suspect they are a bad as the others. Even the threads on the wheels are completely packed with material making the wheels surface very slick (not a lot off gripping power there).
Do I worry for nothing or is this a potential showstopper?