Thursday, January 22, 2004

Rudolf Flesch:

Sheesh. After that last post, I think I need a dose of this. It is a great piece of freeware that I recommend to anyone writing or preparing presentations. It gives out free slices of humble pie.

The "Bull Composite Index" for the sustainability posting was 4. Average sentence length 24.8 words. Average syllables per word, 1.9. Flesch score: 19/100. I suspect what sunk me was my propensity for run-on sentences I love them a lot because I am a steamroller of thought.

The comment on the posting from the Bullfighter software was great: Diagnosis: You like to hear yourself write. Despairing the thought of bringing a sentence to a close with something as demeaningly ordinary as a simple period, you shower readers with gratuitous, interminable and often weighty if not impossibly labyrinthine prose. Meaning lingers, albeit awash in a thick tide of metaphor and exposition that threatens to drown the writer's message. Seek help.

My very own Simon Cowell, and I have him right here on my desk.

 Wednesday, January 21, 2004

Quine, redux? (who doesn't?):

Over the past two decades, our understanding of the many and various facets of global environmental change has grown enormously. We have gained knowledge ranging from fundamental discoveries concerning the mechanisms that underlie chemical cycles to new observations of how societies adapt to environmental changes.

This new knowledge has been accompanied by a growing appreciation for the scale and complexity of the interconnected systems we are attempting to understand and manage. At the recent World Academies of Science Conference on 'Transition to Sustainability in the 21st Century,' Robert Kates, a scholar from the United States, succinctly stated, ...if almost everything is connected to almost everything else, then how is one to avoid the practical impossibility of having to study everything in order to know anything? Over the last several hundred years, the answer for science has been reductionism: the procedure by which a thorough understanding of the parts of a problem and their interactions will lead to an understanding of the whole.

Unfortunately, two factors complicate the application of this procedure to environmental issues. First, interactions between ecological, climatological, and social systems are highly nonlinear and in fact may be chaotic, settling in meta-stable states that might not be predictable from any level of knowledge of the individual parts.

Second, reductionism tends to operate on a long time scale. Traditional academic activities operate on time scales much longer than the decision processes of the political and private sectors. In fact, the time scales associated with scientific study may be longer than that of evolution between meta-stable socio-environmental states, so even if we reached understanding of one state of the system, it might already have jumped to another. This kind of reasoning has led to the ?precautionary approach? behind Principle 15 of the UNCED Rio Declaration (1) which urges preventive political action to prevent possible harm before full scientific certainty is reached.

In combination with political reality, reductionism has left us with a fractured system within which international environmental conventions are developed and implemented separately, even though they are actually interdependent in a physical sense. We believe that rising carbon dioxide levels may be mitigated by planting forests, but we have little understanding of how this practice would affect biodiversity. National systems for environmental research, monitoring, assessment, management, and policy are loosely coordinated at best, both within countries and internationally. For the present, the political and financial capital required to produce a globally coordinated response is perceived to be too large for most countries. However, the problem is more complex than a lack of political and financial capital.

We are only beginning to understand the primary socio-economic drivers behind global environmental change. When the development path followed by countries has a far greater impact on emissions than actions taken under environmental agreements, as is now the case, large amounts of capital are expended on trying to resolve problems that are likely to be secondary. The precautionary principle is well-intentioned and may claim some preventive successes, but in periods of high uncertainty it will inevitably also result in expensive efforts that lead to naught.

How then is society to tackle the multiple scales of organization inherent in these socio-economic drivers, which span everything from understanding molecular-scale phenomena to managing biomes, and in another dimension, from understanding the social attitudes of individual consumers to formulating macroeconomic policy? How can science maintain a credible role within social processes that require action based on imperfect information? Specifically, how can global environmental change science contribute to trajectories of development that reduce vulnerability and increase resilience?

For science the answer is an uncomfortable one. The answer will also require scientists to undertake a process of inquiry that is more adaptive, integrative, interdisciplinary, and synthesizing than at present (2,3) Such a process challenges a central tenet of the scientific method because it requires that the scientific community be a social actor, and not simply an independent observer. It requires a change in scientific culture.

To a certain extent, this change is already under way. Early concepts, like those set forth in James Lovelock's Gaia (4), Barbara Ward's Spaceship Earth (5) and the sometimes impenetrable ramblings of Buckminster Fuller (6), provided a contextual seed that probably contributed to various physical sciences' interacting to produce "climate change science." Further combinations produced "Earth systems science," and later, in combination with biology and ecology, the health and socio-economic sciences produced "global environmental change science." Today the discussion is moving towards what is being called "sustainability science" (7,8,9) -- an adaptive, integrative, interdisciplinary, and synthesizing interaction of the kind described above. What is perhaps more important, sustainability science is beginning to lay the foundations of hard data and sound science that have been lacking in previous attempts at defining 'sustainability.'

It is vital that discussions about sustainability science involve substantive participation and contribution by developing nations. Environmental change is of the highest priority to the developing world because these regions are the most vulnerable to the effects of change, but their societies are the least resilient, with little ability to mitigate and adapt to those effects. The developing nations must be encouraged to contribute their local knowledge and experience to sustainability science. Furthermore, they should be encouraged to take actions that will reduce their overall vulnerability, such as strengthening infrastructure and capacity in order to help mitigation efforts, and formulating adaptation strategies that make sense locally. As far as possible, sustainability science research should be done in the developing world, by scientists from the developing world, and for the benefit of the developing world. In what context can discussion, development, and practice of sustainability science be carried out? What new structures must come into existence to allow it to succeed?

First of all, the discussion must take place among peers, and the development must be fully cooperative. If a sense of local ownership is to emerge, researchers in the physical and social sciences disciplines must interact with one another, with private sector interests, and with policy-makers in the context of a single problem. Second, the practice must be consistent over a long enough period, and over a large enough geographic area, to appreciably contribute to a solution of the problem that will result in a 'livable community.'

I suggest that some of the required social structures and some of the tools and requirements for the integrative process already exist, or are about to emerge. For example, the convergence that is about to take place among geographic information systems, decision support systems, information technology, and communications will undoubtedly produce some very useful techniques for analysis of the complex problems involved in sustainability science. This convergence will also make possible the collaboration of interdisciplinary teams from widely dispersed geographic areas at a much reduced cost. A cautionary note?these converging systems and technologies are still relatively young. Standards for their interoperability are being established, and they are undergoing needed experimentation. The explosion of data on the Internet has also created what may perhaps be called 'data chaos,' rather than easy access to larger quantities of well-managed data and information. There will certainly turn out to be many false starts in the process of realizing these opportunities.

The beginnings of the necessary scientific structures already exist in the form of regional global change research networks: the Asia-Pacific Network (APN), the Inter-American Institute for Global Change Research (IAI), and the System for Analysis, Research, and Training (START). These networks have already forged highly competitive, interdisciplinary teams of scientists that are working to make information available for decision-makers. The networks are contributing to the strengthening of local scientific infrastructure and encouraging local young scientists to become involved in integrative science. These regional networks are poised to make a strong contribution to sustainability science. There is also the question of equal access, both to the data and to specialized analysis tools--and in this respect a 'digital divide' (10) separates the developed world from the developing. While many developing countries have a robust research, communications, and computing infrastructure, many others have extremely poor systems. The regional networks provide a framework for attacking some of these problems, through their visiting scholars programs, infrastructure grants, and team-building activities. Many grants provide computer hardware and, in some cases, the necessary telecommunications infrastructure. Each of these regional networks places a great emphasis on training young people to use new concepts within an integrative, multidisciplinary context. International global change research networks are emerging as a plausible response to the challenge of carrying out sustainability science research. They operate on a scale that provides a good fit to most of the problems to be tackled: they are fundamentally regional. Significant advances in sustainability science must take place on regional scales.

The local scale is too small to include many of the important systemic interrelationships (and is also too small to provide significant relief), and the global scale is simply unmanageable?in addition to being politically problematic and often irrelevant in a scientifically comparative sense. The regional scale provides a context within which the full complexity of these problems is both evident and tractable. Reductionism certainly still has a place within science, but it cannot remain a central paradigm for science's approach to society's critical problems.

1. United Nations, 1992. Annex I, Report of the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development, 3?14 June, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

2. Kates, R. W., W. C. Clark, R. Corell, J. M. Hall, C. C. Jaeger, I. Lowe, J. J. McCarthy, H. J. Schellnhuber, B. Bolin, N. M. Dickson, S. Faucheux, G. C. Gallopin, A. Gruebler, B. Huntley, J. Jaeger, N. S. Jodha, R. E. Kasperson, A. Mabogunje, P. Matson, H. Mooney, B. Moore III, T. O?Riordan, and U. Svedin, 2001. ?Sustainability science,? Science, vol. 292, pp.641?642.

3. Friibergh Workshop on Sustainability Science, 2000. Sustainability science: Statement of the Friibergh Workshop on Sustainability Science, 11?14 October, Friibergh Manor, Örsundsbro, Sweden.

4. For a good discussion of the Gaia hypothesis, see Schneider, S. H. and P. J. Boston, eds., 1991. Scientists on Gaia, American Geophysical Union:3-10. MIT Press, Cambridge, in particular the article of James Lovelock, ?Geophysiology?The Science of Gaia,? p. 4.

5. Ward, B., 1966. Spaceship Earth, Columbia University Press, New York.

6. See for example, Fuller, R.B., 1971. Operating Manual For Spaceship Earth. E.P. Dutton & Co., New York.

7. NRC (National Research Council), 1999. Our Common Journey. Board on Sustainable Development, National Academy Press, Washington, D.C.

8. NRC (National Research Council), 1999. Global Environmental Change: Research Pathways for the Next Decade. Committee on Global Change Research, Board on Sustainable Development, National Academy Press, Washington D.C.

9. NRC (National Research Council), 1992. Global Environmental Change: Understanding the Human Dimensions. Committee on the Human Dimensions of Global Change, Commission on the Behavioral and Social Sciences and Education, National Academy Press, Washington D.C.

10. Although the original study was strictly within the United States and for domestic purposes, the origin of the term lies in the correlation between income disparities and access to communications technologies found by a study published in July 1999 by the U.S. Department of Commerce, National Telecommunications and Information Administration, Falling Through the Net: Defining the Digital Divide (PDF link).

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 Thursday, January 15, 2004

Rover, now go find Beagle:

NASA's commands to Spirit's rover this morning included not only "turn right and go down the ramp," but also "and when you're done, look up."

The Mars Express orbiter (of Beagle 2 fame) will pass overhead, and will be looking down at the landing area. By design, the two craft have similar sensors onboard, and they will hopefully look through some of the same portions of the tenuous martian atmosphere.

When you look down, it's very hard to tell what part of the signal comes from the ground, and what part comes from the atmosphere in-between. For example, if you are interested in how much dust there is in the air, but you are looking down at a dusty surface, you can't tell how much of the "dust signal" is in the air, and how much is coming from the ground:

Express Signal = Ground Signal + Atmosphere Signal

If you look up, you can measure what's in the air, but you can only do it in one place at a time:

Spirit Up-look Signal = Atmosphere Signal

The best thing to do is to combine these techniques, and get an idea of what the correct value is for at least one spot, use that to validate the measurement, and then calibrate your space-borne sensors so they can be used over wide areas. When Spirit looks down, it will also be able to determine what is actually on the ground, rather than the combination Express sees:

Spirit Down-look Signal = Ground Signal

You can use your high school algebra to see that this system of equations overdetermines the individual signals - this is what gives us some bounds on errors.

And that is what Spirit will help Express to do today.

You might think this kind of thing is done all the time on Earth, but you'd be wrong. This type of ground truthing calibration/validation exercise is very expensive. The ground truth that is used to calibrate sensors here on Earth is actually quite sparse. Most of the remotely sensed data of the Earth is not fully understood, and very few of the tens of thousands of maps produced from satellite data even have rigorous error estimates for the signal interpretation.

I'm still chewing on President Bush's "Infinity and Beyond" speech from yesterday, and trying to find U.S. budget figures for 1962. Stay tuned.

 Monday, January 12, 2004

Henry v. Vucetich:

The oft-told story of re-inventing wheels, competing standards, and generally un- or at best ill-informed decisions.

At lunch today I met Julia Rodriguez, a researcher from the University of New Hampshire who is looking at criminology in late 19th century Argentina. She is looking at the implementation of a fingerprinting program to document and uniquely identify all immigrants, and how science played into the adoption of this particular policy. Answer: not very well. And by now you can probably guess where she went with this, given the recent news about fingerprinting at U.S. points-of-entry and possible changes in immigration policy. Follow the parallels where they exist. There are bright spots, I promise.

In the 1870's the British invested a great deal of capital in Argentine railroads, allowing a large boom in the agricultural export industry. A period of enormous immigration flux followed, and the population grew more than ten-fold within 20 years. As might be imagined, the social and physical infrastructure could not manage this, and a great deal of social unrest occurred. Within the flood of immigrants, there were all sorts of bad seeds (to be read as 'anarchists, communists, and other criminals'), and the Argentine government wanted to winnow them out.

Social criminology theories of the day based on the work of Cesare Lombroso (nature) and Enrico Ferri (nurture) in Italy were popular, as was the evolving work of physiological measurements ("anthropometry") under Alphonse Bertillon in France. Although much maligned by later mis-use and outright quackery, the fundamental motivation was simple enough: can measurements of human physiognomy be used as identifiers, are they inherited, and can they also be used as predictors of behaviour? Many thought they could, and Argentina (among most other advanced nations of the day) set up an official system to collect measurements from criminals and immigrants. The data was to be used to help with resolving identity in criminal cases, and perhaps to identify potential troublemakers before they were allowed entry.

Among the beaurocracy was Juan Vucetich, a statistician given the task of seeing if there was anything useful in fingerprints, since recent work by Francis Galton (a cousin of Darwin's) in England pointed heavily towards fingerprints as unique identifiers. Galton had initially tried to tie fingerprints to race and to behaviour, but was not able to establish a scientifically rigorous correlation (however, Galton never renounced the belief that the correlation was there). Vucetich took Galton's fingerprint uniqueness theory, and devised a rigorous classification system for fingerprints that allowed for the searching of the growing set of records. Argentina had the first set of indexed fingerprint records, and the first criminal conviction in 1892 based on fingerprint identification (incidentally, an Argentine (Gori) also published the first professional criminological journal). The Vucetich system is still in use today by many police, judicial and correctional systems throughout the world. Vucetich's method is still taught at an institute bearing his name in Mendoza, Argentina.

However, the system as set up in the late 1800's and early 1900's in Argentina had a lot of holes. Only seaports took immigrant fingerprints. First-class passengers and Argentine citizens were exempt. Plenty of bad seeds came overland. Plenty were already in the country (...many of them home-grown), and plenty of bad seeds were in the moneyed classes. It was a classic case of implementing a policy based on a presupposed, and long-term untenable position that any unrest was caused by poor outsiders, and that border control was the answer. There were of course two fatal flaws: a porous border, and the presupposition that the threat came from an easily classified set of people. It was a short-term political fix designed to quell public fear. Given that Argentina was composed of more than 50% immigrants, riots soon ensued, and the fingerprinting program was eventually dropped.

To continue the fingerprint history, about ten years after the Vucetich system was set up in Argentina, Edward Henry devised a similar system in India. He was later transferred to London, and began using his system in Scotland Yard, from where it migrated to most of the rest of the English speaking world. In the U.S. there were several false starts, based on variants of Henry, and many incompatible systems were set up based on decisions by local police superintendents. By the 1940's most of this had been ironed out, and a massive card file began to grow in Washington.

The growth of computers and pattern recognition theory was a great incubator. The digitization of the U.S. card database and the eventual merging of international databases was contemplated under a common system. The competing Henry and Vucetich systems had come to a head, under the need for the FBI's International Automated Fingerprint Identification System (IAFIS).

They both lost, and Vucetich and Henry systems were discarded. IAFIS actually went back to Galton to look at even finer levels of detail to provide necessary levels of evidentiary confidence.

So, what is to be made of this in the present?

One. Massive as it is, the IAFIS database is generally only composed of the convicted criminal population, all federal civil servants (yours truly included), and military personnel. Most civil, unconvicted criminal, and foreign fingerprints are still on cardboard, and are not in the system. The system therefore is re-active rather than pro-active.

Two. Current immigration fingerprinting is only required for certain countries, and so would miss U.S., Canadian and British citizens, as well as current holders of green cards. And there are certainly plenty of bad seeds among those groups.

Three. Fingerprinting is only implemented at certain ports of entry, not all. ...and there is additionally always immigration that avoids ports-of-entry, anyway.

Four. Terrorists supposedly come from a classifiable set of people. Not by measuring their skulls, but by looking at their electronic habits.

Five. We are a nation of immigrants, and depend on immigration for labour and population growth.

The 1800's Argentine ingredients are there, but of course the context is very different.

The level of effort required to make this system work is daunting, and it will require giving up freedoms. At the moment, those freedoms are those belonging to the outsiders, and so there is political short-term capital to be gained from the policy. When the freedoms impinged upon belong to regular U.S. citizens, watch out. Those stories will start to emerge, as dual citizens get caught, U.S. citizens in other countries' databases get caught, and just plain errors are introduced. Godel's omega incompleteness will have its way.

Good books I found on this issue are:

Simon Cole, Suspect Identities: A History of Fingerprinting and Criminal Identification (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2001; 369 pp.)

and the bible for fingerprinting technology:

Maltoni D., D. Maio, A.K. Jain, and S. Prabhakar, Handboook of Fingerprint Recognition (New York, NY: Springer Verlag, June 2003; 360 pp., 180 illus., DVD included, ISBN: 0-387-95431-7)

I will post another amusing story about Argentine science later. The Huemul incident is not a proud moment for a country that has a strong intellectual history.

 Tuesday, January 06, 2004

Japi birdei:

This blog made it to the one-year mark. A good summary of the phases a blogger goes through is here. Perhaps I'm in Stage III?

...some comments might help from you lot. I know you're there. I'm tracking you.

'Nuff said.

 Monday, January 05, 2004

Beagle! Here Beagle, Beagle...

Sadly, as we recede from its planned landing day on December 25, it looks more and more like we have lost contact with ESA's Mars lander, Beagle 2.

As the IKEA man would say, in the Cannes-prize-winning advert Spike Jonz produced about a lamp left out in the rain on a garbage pile: "Many of you feel bad for this spacecraft. That is because you are crazy. It has no feelings."

But Mars is a particularly harsh destination, because we have sent thirty-three probes to the planet, and eighteen have failed completely. By my reckoning, we have had ten successes, four partial successes, eighteen failures, with two missions pending (Japan's Nozomi, and the US's Opportunity). Here are the dirty details:

  • 10 October 1960: USSR launched Mars 1M (1). Launch failure.
  • 14 October 1960: USSR launched Mars 1M (2). Launch failure.
  • 24 October 1962: USSR launched Mars 2MV-4 on Sputnik 22. Launch failure (debris was thought to be initial Soviet missile attack during Cuban missile crisis).
  • 1 November 1962: USSR launched Mars 1. Failed 3 months before fly-by. Now in heliocentric orbit.
  • 4 November 1962: USSR launched Mars 2MV-3 (1). Failed to leave Earth orbit.
  • 11 November 1963: USSR launched Venera 3MV-1/A (1) (listed as a Mars probe, but name belongs to Venus series?). Failed to separate from LV.
  • 19 February 1964: USSR launched Venera 3MV-1/A (2). Launch failure.
  • 5 November 1964: USA launched Mariner 3. Launch fairing failure same day.
  • 28 November 1964: USA launched Mariner 4. First successful Mars flyby. 5.2Mb of data returned, photographing about 1% of the surface ("Craters! Mars is like the Moon!"), giving first estimates of atmospheric pressure, 4-7 mb, from radio occultation ), mass and shape constraints, and non-detection of a magnetic field. Mariner went into heliocentric orbit, and was finally terminated21 December 1967.
  • 30 November 1964: USSR launched Zond 2. Communications failure in April 1965.
  • 25 February 1969: USA launched Mariner 6 (Mariner 5 went to Venus). 20% of surface photographed ("Whoa! Mars is not like the Moon!"), surface pressure 6-7 mb, determination that southern polar cap was composed of CO2.
  • 27 March 1969: USA launched Mariner 7. Successful fly-by. Mariner 6 & 7 returned 800 Mb of data.
  • 27 March 1969: USSR launched Mars M-69 (521). Launch failure.
  • 2 April 1969: USSR launched Mars M-69 (522). Failure at +41 sec left the launch site unusable due to fuel contamination for several months.
  • 9 May 1971: USA launched Mariner 8. Launch failure.
  • 10 May 1971: USSR launched Mars M-71 (1) on Cosmos 419. Failed to leave Earth orbit (another unit conversion failure: the timer to ignite the stage was set to 1.5 years instead of 1.5 seconds).
  • 19 May 1971: USSR launched Mars 2 (M-71 (2)). Reached Mars on 27 November. Lander failed on descent.
  • 28 May 1971: USSR launched Mars 3. Reached Mars on 2 December, lander descended to soft landing same day, but operated only 20 seconds before failing.
  • 30 May 1971: USA launched Mariner 9. First successful orbit insertion around another planet. Mapped planet after global dust storm lasting from September to December. Valles Marineris canyon details. 54 Gb of data returned. Turned off 27 October 1972. Still in martian orbit.
  • 21 July 1973: USSR launched Mars 4. Martian orbit not achieved, fly-by only on 10 February 1974. Faulty computer chip. In heliocentric orbit.
  • 25 July 1973: USSR launched Mars 5. Martian orbit insertion on 12 February 1974, operated a few days before failure. Faulty computer chip.
  • 5 August 1973: USSR launched Mars 6. Martian orbit and landing achieved 12 March 1974, but data was corrupt. Faulty computer chip. Contact lost on landing.
  • 9 August 1974: USSR launched Mars 7. Premature landing probe separation - missed Mars. Faulty computer chip. In heliocentric orbit.
  • 20 August 1975: USA launched Viking 1. Martian orbit insertion 19 June 1976. Soft landing 20 July 1976. Orbiter powered down 17 August 1980. Lander functioned until 13 November 1982.
  • 9 September 1975: USA launched Viking 2. Martian orbit insertion 7 August 1976. Soft landing 3 September 1976. Orbiter powered down 25 July 1978. Lander functioned until 11 April 1980. Viking 1 & 2 orbiters mapped the entire surface.
  • 7 July 1988: USSR launched Phobos 1. Failed 27 March 1989 while in orbit before launch of probes to martian moon Phobos. Software error led to loss of lock on Sun, depleting the batteries.
  • 12 July 1988: USSR launched Phobos 2. Reached Mars 29 January 1989, failed 27 March 1989 before lander was released.
  • 25 September 1972: USA launched Mars Observer. Communications and propulsion failure 22 August 1993 on orbit insertion attempt. In heliocentric orbit.
  • 16 November 1996: Russia launched Mars 8 (M-96). Failed to leave Earth orbit and re-entered over the Pacific, Chile and Bolivia. Last Russian mission to Mars.
  • 7 November 1996: USA launches Mars Global Surveyor. Martian orbit insertion 12 September 1997. Began mapping in March 1999. Still operational (a nice shot looking back at Earth from MGS' camera).
  • 4 December 1996: USA launched Mars Pathfinder. Landed 4 July 1997. The Sojourner rover is operated. Mission terminated 10 March 1998 when communications failed. Great public attachment to little rover.
  • 3 July 1998: Japan launched Nozomi or Hope. Original plan was to arrive at Mars 11 October 1999, but swing-by orbit acceleration problems left the craft with insufficient delta-V. Additional Earth swingbys were used to get a Mars encounter January 2004. Stay tuned.
  • 11 December 1998: USA launched Mars Climate Orbiter as part of the Mars Surveyor program. Failed 23 September 1999 when an incorrect value in a look-up table caused incorrect orbit insertion (unit error, using pounds instead of Newtons).
  • 3 January 1999: USA launched Mars Polar Explorer. Reached Mars 3 December, and was to have landed between 73 and 78 degrees South, but communications were lost on lander separation. The death knell for Dan Goldin's faster, better, cheaper mantra.
  • 7 April 2001: USA launched 2001 Mars Odyssey. Achieved martian orbit October 24, 2001. Today it serves as the communications relay for the landers (this is one of the craft that have IP addresses that I mentioned in my Feb 20 post).
  • 2 June 2003: the EU launched Mars Express. Mars orbit insertion 20 December 2003. The lander, Beagle 2, was to have landed 25 December, but contact has not been made. The orbiter remains operational, with a 1 year operations plan.
  • 10 June 2003: USA launched Mars Exploration Rover A (MER-2, Spirit). Rover weighs 185 kg, over ten times what Sojourner weighs. Landed 4 January. Rover roll-off planned for 12 January. 90 day operations planned - dust covering the solar panels and a lowering sun angle will eventually kill the batteries.
  • 8 July 2003: USA launched Mars Exploration Rover B (MER-1, Opportunity). Martian arrival scheduled for 25 January 2004.

(Data from, ESA, JAXA, and NASA)

Here is a great QTVR panorama of the view from Spirit's landing site.

Here's the nifty desktop clock, Mars24, so that you too can get successively more jet-lagged like the mission control folks at JPL, operating on Mars time. Mars24 doesn't label all the landing sites for all the missions listed above, but you can center the map on whatever coordinates you want, and so see where the forlorn and freezing are. Poor things. But they have no feelings.