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Geoff Haines-Stiles
Project Director

"Launch of First Mars Exploration Rover"

Hugs. Handshakes. Euphoria. For a few seconds... then the team moves back inside... Chocolate cigars to celebrate their robotic baby. Checking out NASA TV to catch up on aspects of the launch they'd missed as they were fixated on the columns of numbers on their screens. John Wirth (see UPDATES #3) powers in with exuberant high 5's, along with Tom Shain, ATLO logistics manager and the convoy chief who'd brought the rovers across country in three high-speed truck transits. Soon, the ATLO team was back at work, waiting to monitor incoming data. NASA's Canberra tracking station would be the first to see the spacecraft. While Boeing and Air Force knew the launch seemed nominal, the JPL team wanted to hear directly from their progeny. Ahead of schedule, a peep came in... and then the signal built. The solar panels were charging... current was flowing. It was alive, in space, and en route. Finally, it seemed, a feeling of quasi-relaxation entered. Elation at launching was one thing, but getting safely off Earth is not what this mission is all about. Getting into orbit, then off on a trajectory to Mars (both now achieved), and then landing safely on the Red Planet on January 4th, 2004 is the goal and Grail. Still, as Richard Cook had said that sunny morning of June 8th, every milestone deserves a few champagne corks, even if only doing science on Mars for 90 sols would really vindicate their efforts, some time in spring or summer 2004.

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