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PASSPORT TO KNOWLEDGE - To MARS with MER
Spirit Continues to Send Back Amazing New Images From Mars
The Mars Exploration Rover team - both the scientists and the engineers - continue working at peak intensity, and round the clock, at NASA JPL. The mission team is carefully preparing Spirit to roll off the lander some time in the next week, most likely Thursday, Friday or Saturday. (See JPL's January 9 release.) Other teams monitor Opportunity's trajectory for its January 24 landing, and begin to apply any changes in the Entry, Descent and Landing process, learning from what Spirit experienced on January 3. Meanwhile Steve Squyres' science team is analyzing every new image from the Pancam, and welcoming data from newly-activated instruments - like Mini-TES - as they come on line.
P2K is also busy: our live and interactive FIRST LOOK TV special debuts Saturday January 17, from 3-4 p.m. Eastern. Depending on mission requirements, viewers will see and hear Steve Squyres and others live from JPL, interacting with youngsters and families at a Mars Festival at the Houston Museum of Natural Science, commenting on the very latest images and information direct from Mars. (Click here for full details and satellite coordinates.)
This section of the site links you directly to the latest official information from NASA JPL, and to behind-the-scenes journals from several participants in the mission, hosted by Cornell University, The Planetary Society, and others.
The Mars Exploration Rover mission will be adding new pictures, data and stories each and every day: at times this and other websites may be a day or two behind breaking news, but the links to right and under should take you to the very latest information from NASA and its partners. Onwards and Upwards in the exploration of Mars!
NASA's Spirit Stages Martian Stand-Up Performance
January 10, 2004
NASA's Mars Exploration Rover Spirit has successfully completed its stand-up activities by extending the rear wheels. This puts the rover into a fully opened configuration for the first time since pre-launch testing in Florida last spring.
Meanwhile, the rover is sending home sections of a 360-degree color panorama it has taken and stored onboard, plus other information about the terrain around its landing site, Columbia Memorial Station in Mars' Gusev Crater.
Mission managers at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., have decided that changing the tilt of the lander platform will not be necessary before the rover drives off, possibly allowing drive-off to occur late Tuesday night or early Wednesday, Pacific Standard Time.
This image mosaic taken by the Mars Exploration Rover Spirit's panoramic camera shows a new slice of martian real estate southwest of the rover's landing site.
Image Credit: NASA/JPL/Cornell University
JPL's Chris Voorhees, who led the engineering team that planned the unfolding sequences for Spirit and its sister rover, Opportunity, said "Spirit has spent most of the last seven months scrunched up inside of a tetrahedral-shaped lander, and that is not the shape a rover wants to be. Over the last several days, Spirit has performed a sort of reverse robotic origami."
"The rover now stands at its full height and all six wheels are in position for driving on the surface of Mars," said Jennifer Trosper, mission manager at JPL.
The rover is still attached to the lander. The next step planned for Saturday evening (Pacific Standard Time) is to command the rover to release connections between the middle wheels and the lander. Under best-case conditions, severing the final cable connection is planned for Sunday night, followed by clockwise turns totaling 120 degrees on Monday night into Tuesday, then drive-off toward the northwest on the following martian day.
Pictures from Spirit's panoramic camera continue to provide details about the martian ground and sky. The rover transmitted home about 180 megabits of science data in the past martian day, nearly 10 times the maximum daily capability of Mars Pathfinder in 1997.
JPL geologist Dr. Matt Golombek, co-chair of the steering committee that evaluated potential landing sites for Spirit and Opportunity, said the pictures are confirming some predictions about the Gusev site. Rocks cover less of the ground than at the three previous Mars landing sites -- about three percent of ground area around Spirit compared with about 20 percent of the ground around each of Mars Pathfinder, Viking 1 and Viking 2.
Presenting the latest high-resolution color mosaic from Spirit, Golombek said, "This is without question the smoothest, flattest place we've ever landed on Mars, with the possible exception of Viking 2."
Dr. Mark Lemmon a member of the rover science team from Texas A & M University, College Station, said the atmosphere at Spirit's site is dustier than at previous landing sites, except during dust storms observed by the Viking landers. The dust colors the sky and affects the appearance of objects on the ground.
Higher above the ground, atmospheric densities predicted for Spirit's descent closely matched the true conditions measured from the spacecraft's deceleration, said JPL's Dr. Joy Crisp. That is a good sign for Opportunity's descent two weeks from now, though risks remain high for any landing on Mars.
Spirit arrived at Mars Jan. 3 (EST and PST; Jan. 4 Universal Time) after a seven-month journey. Its task is to spend the next three months exploring for clues in rocks and soil about whether the past environment in Gusev Crater was ever watery and suitable to sustain life.
Spirit's twin Mars Exploration Rover, Opportunity, will reach its landing site on the opposite side of Mars on Jan. 25 (EST and Universal Time; 9:05 p.m., Jan. 24, PST) to begin a similar examination of a site on the opposite side of the planet from Gusev Crater. As of Sunday morning, Opportunity will have flown 428 million kilometers (266 million miles) since launch and will still have 28 million kilometers (17 million miles) to go before landing.
JPL, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, manages the Mars Exploration Rover project for NASA's Office of Space Science, Washington, D.C. Images and additional information about the project are available from JPL at http://marsrovers.jpl.nasa.gov and from Cornell University, Ithaca, N.Y., at http://athena.cornell.edu.