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PASSPORT TO KNOWLEDGE - To MARS with MER
Spirit goes out for a "Sunday drive" and Opportunity is closing in!
Spirit goes out for a "Sunday drive" and Opportunity is closing in... The adventure continues!
Now Spirit is truly a rover, after putting the first meters on its odometer and cruising over to Adirondack, the first rock chosen for close-up study. Check out the animation from the Latest images link below, right, to see for yourself the rover's first short jaunt on Mars.
Meanwhile, last weekend, Opportunity's trajectory was fine tuned to take it to Meridiani Planum, on the other side of the planet. Engineers and managers are working hard to incorporate all the data learned from Spirit's landing to make final adjustments about how high to open the parachute, and just when to fire the rockets, in order to make this second Entry, Descent and Landing as safe as possible. They hope that Spirit's success means there's no design flaw in the basic spacecraft, but still some "sharp, pointy rock", as Steve Squyres says in P2K's BOUNCING TO MARS, or some change in the Martian weather, could make Opportunity's landing even more risky. Stay tuned for all the latest!
Last Saturday also saw P2K's live FIRST LOOK special. Unfortunately NASA-TV did not carry the program as scheduled (we always indicated NTV might pre-empt), but many PBS stations did air FIRST LOOK live, or tape for future replays. However, FIRST LOOK will appear in the Education File. You can also check out the archived web version in the near future. (See WATCH THE VIDEOS, View Now.) The Houston Museum of Natural Science was packed with 3,000 enthusiastic youngsters and their families, and a good time was had by "kids of all ages", in the words of host, Bill Nye the Science Guy. Though rain dampened egg-drop parachutes, and the sundial was cloudy, Houston area youngsters got questions answered by Mars Exploration Rover team members at JPL. More than 600 people also gathered in Brownsville, mentored by NASA JSC educators: thanks to all P2K's partners in Houston, Brownsville and NASA JPL, and especially to Cathy Weitz, Nagin Cox, Zoe Learner, Donna Shirley, Orlando Figueroa, Steve Squyres, Wayne Lee, Kobie Boykins and Stephenie Lievense, who took time away from rest and sleep to appear on camera. Along with breakthrough science and engineering, we're delighted to find NASA and JPL so supportive of education and outreach.
Check out the latest press releases, browse Steve Squyres' recent Journals, and think good thoughts for the ongoing adventures of Spirit and Opportunity.
Spirit Drives to a Rock Called 'Adirondack' for Close Inspection
January 19, 2004
NASA's Spirit rover has successfully driven to its first target on Mars, a football-sized rock that scientists have dubbed Adirondack.
The Mars Exploration Rover flight team at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., plans to send commands to Spirit early Tuesday to examine Adirondack with a microscope and two instruments that reveal the composition of rocks, said JPL's Dr. Mark Adler, Spirit mission manager. The instruments are the Mössbauer spectrometer and the alpha particle X-ray spectrometer.
Image Credit: NASA/JPL/Cornell University
Spirit successfully rolled off the lander and onto the martian surface last Thursday. To make the drive to Adirondack, the rover turned 40 degrees in short arcs totaling 95 centimeters (3.1 feet). It then turned in place to face the target rock and drove four short moves straightforward totaling 1.9 meters (6.2 feet). The moves covered a span of 30 minutes on Sunday, though most of that was sitting still and taking pictures between moves. The total amount of time when Spirit was actually moving was about two minutes.
"These are the sorts of baby steps we're taking," said JPL's Dr. Eddie Tunstel, rover mobility engineer.
"The drive was designed for two purposes, one of which was to get to the rock," Tunstel said. "From the mobility engineers' standpoint, this drive was geared to testing out how we do drives on this new surface." Gathering new information such as how much the wheels slip in the martian soil will give the team confidence for more ambitious drives in future weeks and months.
"Adirondack is now about one foot (30 centimeters) in front of the front wheels," he said.
Scientists chose Adirondack to be Spirit's first target rock rather than another rock, called Sashimi, that would have been a shorter, straight-ahead drive. Rocks are time capsules containing evidence of the environmental conditions of the past, said Dr. Dave Des Marais, a rover science-team member from NASA Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif. "We needed to decide which of these time capsules to open."
Sashimi appears dustier than Adirondack. The dust layer could obscure good observations of the rock's surface, which may give information about chemical changes and other weathering from environmental conditions affecting the rock since its surface was fresh. Also, Sashimi is more pitted than Adirondack. That makes it a poorer candidate for the rover's rock abrasion tool, which scrapes away a rock's surface for a view of the interior evidence about environmental conditions when the rock first formed. Adirondack has a "nice, flat surface" well suited to trying out the rover's tools on their first martian rock, Des Marais said.
"The hypothesis is that this is a volcanic rock, but we'll test that hypothesis," he said. Spirit arrived at Mars Jan. 3 (EST and PST; Jan. 4 Universal Time) after a seven-month journey. In coming weeks and months, according to plans, it will be exploring for clues in rocks and soil to decipher whether the past environment in Gusev Crater was ever watery and possibly suitable to sustain life.
Spirit's twin Mars Exploration Rover, Opportunity, will reach 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.
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.