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PASSPORT TO KNOWLEDGE - To MARS with MER
When the going gets tough, the tough get going.
When the going gets tough, the tough get going. That's what's happening now at NASA JPL: as if landing a second spacecraft, Opportunity, on Mars were not difficult enough, the Mars Exploration Rover team is experiencing serious difficulties with Spirit, already on the ground at Gusev Crater. Spirit was going to be given a planned rest during Opportunity's landing and first days on the surface -- though this kind of spell of "intensive care" was in no-one's play book -- in order to allow full attention to today's inherently risky events. But the Jan 23 briefing was evidence of the quality and commitment of the mission team: project manager, Pete Theisinger, was calm and forthcoming: yes, there were serious communications and possibly hardware problems with the spacecraft (see JPL releases linked in below) but a dedicated team of engineers was carefully working through data to come up with answers, while a separate team was attending to the Entry, Descent and Landing, or EDL, of Opportunity (set for the evening of Saturday Jan 24, Pacific time.) Most of the questions, naturally, were about Spirit, which unfortunately eclipsed the amazing information and images in the reports of Wayne Lee, Miguel San Martin and Adam Steltzner: for the past few weeks, they and colleagues have been working on a "reconstruction" of Spirit's EDL, in order to fine tune that for Opportunity. They've been able to get to incredible detail, including data that the Descent Rate Limiter (controlling the unspooling of the bridle linking the lander to the backshell) took 11 not the expected 6 seconds to deploy. Their information about the number and direction of the bounces also allowed them to determine exactly where Spirit came to rest: equally astonishing images from the Mars Orbital Camera aboard the Global Surveyor allowed MOC camera PI, Mike Malin, to show where the parachute and backshell, the heat shield, and Spirit herself came to rest. Check out the images for evidence of how powerful the combination of software, hardware and human ingenuity can be. Spirit's communications difficulties are serious and as yet mysterious: not even Pete Theisinger could predict if and when progress might be made. But the Rover mission team are tough and dedicated: if anyone can figure out the problems and fix them, it's them. Stay tuned for news from Opportunity and soon, we hope, once more from Spirit.
First Images of Opportunity Site Show Bizarre Landscape
January 25, 2004
NASA's Opportunity rover returned the first pictures of its landing site early today, revealing a surreal, dark landscape unlike any ever seen before on Mars.
Opportunity relayed the images and other data via NASA's Mars Odyssey orbiter. The data showed that the spacecraft is healthy, said Matt Wallace, mission manager at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
Image Credit: NASA/JPL/Cornell University
"Opportunity has touched down in a bizarre, alien landscape," said Dr. Steve Squyres of Cornell University, Ithaca, N.Y., principal investigator for the science instruments on Opportunity and its twin, Spirit. "I'm flabbergasted. I'm astonished. I'm blown away."
The terrain is darker than at any previous Mars landing site and has the first accessible bedrock outcropping ever seen on Mars. The outcropping immediately became a candidate target for the rover to visit and examine up close.
Wallace noted that the straight-ahead path looks clear for the rover to roll off its lander platform. The rover is facing north-northeast.
JPL Administrator Dr. Charles Elachi said, "This team succeeded the old fashioned way. They were excellent, they were determined, and they worked very hard."
JPL, a division of the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, manages the Mars Exploration Rover project for NASA's Office of Space Science, Washington, D.C. Additional information about the project is available from JPL at http://marsrovers.jpl.nasa.gov and from Cornell University, Ithaca, N.Y., at http://athena.cornell.edu.