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To MARS with MER - RESEARCH/ers
PASSPORT TO KNOWLEDGE & the LIVE FROM... specials
"Launch of First Mars Exploration Rover"
As we wrote in UPDATES #2 and #3, there was an incredible feeling of anticipation and excitement as June 8, the revised launch day, dawned. Many of the Mars Exploration Rovers team showed up in the dark, to see their spacecraft on the launch pad, illuminated by search lights.
There were photos and home videos galore, baby pictures they hoped would end up in their "brag book" about being in on the ground floor of a successful mission. The enthusiasm allowed them to forget the gloomy forecast, but Air Force weather predictions were correct, almost to the minute. At 14:05 or so, dark clouds loomed over the Cape, and a torrential rain drove would-be rocket watchers from the beaches. NASA Administrator, Sean O'Keefe, along with President Bush's science advisor, John Marburger, were at the Cape that day, a symbol of the importance of the Mars Exploration Rovers mission to NASA and the nation. In fact, they were visiting with the Mars Exploration Rovers team at the very moment the news came in of the weather cancellation, or "scrub." As typical on the Mars Exploration Rovers mission, many of the team members who would have liked to have a photo taken with the Administrator were just too busy working to spare even a minute for personal business. Later that day, ATHENA science instrument team leader, Steve Squyres, took advantage of the unanticipated free time to go surfing with wife and youngest daughter, and P2K caught up with him on the beach, for a spontaneous interview with him and 3 of the Cornell students who'd helped calibrate some of the cameras, and then had driven down from Ithaca in upstate New York.
Next day, June 9, also dawned bright and clear. But this time, Air Force weather scrubbed preparations even earlier, so that Boeing's workers would not have to first load fuel on board the rocket, and then unload it later... a difficult, time-consuming, and always somewhat dangerous procedure. Many of the Mars Exploration Rovers team had to leave. Adam Steltzner, one of the lead engineers working on EDL (Entry, Descent and Landing) drowned his sorrows on the soggy Cocoa Beach pier, knowing he'd be flying back the next day, at the very time Spirit was due to launch.