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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.

Latest Press Release From JPL
Rover Team Readies for Second Landing While Trying to Mend Spirit
January 23, 2004

Some members of the flight team for NASA's Mars Exploration Rovers are preparing for this weekend's landing of the second rover, Opportunity, while others are focused on trying to restore the first rover, Spirit, to working order.

Image Credit: NASA/JPL/Cornell University

"We should expect we will not be restoring functionality to Spirit for a significant amount of time -- many days, perhaps two weeks -- even in the best of circumstances," said Peter Theisinger, rover project manager at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.

Spirit transmitted data to Earth today for the first time since early Wednesday. The information about the rover's status arrived during three sessions lasting 10 minutes, 20 minutes and 15 minutes. Engineers will be examining it overnight and developing a plan for obtaining more on Saturday morning.

Spirit's flight software is not functioning normally. It appears to have rebooted the rover's computer more than 60 times in the past three days. A motor that moves a mirror for the rover's infrared spectrometer was partway through an operation when the problem arose, so the possibility of a mechanical problem with that hardware will be one theory investigated.

"We believe, based on everything we know now, we can sustain the current state of the spacecraft from a health standpoint for an indefinite amount of time," Theisinger said. That will give the team time to work on the problem.

Meanwhile, Spirit's twin, Opportunity, will reach Mars at 05:05 Universal Time on Jan. 25 (12:05 a.m. Sunday EST or 9:05 p.m. Saturday PST) at a landing site on the opposite side of the planet from Spirit. Opportunity's landing site is on plains called Meridiani Planum within an Oklahoma-sized outcropping of gray hematite, a mineral that usually forms in the presence of water. Scientists plan to use the research instruments on Opportunity to determine whether the gray hematite layer comes from sediments of a long-gone ocean, from volcanic deposits altered by hot water, or from other ancient environmental conditions.

Analysis of Spirit's descent through Mars' atmosphere for its landing at Gusev has contributed to a decision by flight controllers to program Opportunity to open its parachute higher than had been planned earlier, said JPL's Dr. Wayne Lee, chief engineer for development of the rover's descent and landing systems.

The Mars Orbiter Camera on NASA's Mars Global Surveyor orbiter has taken an image of Spirit's landing region that shows the spacecraft's lander platform on the ground. The jettisoned parachute, backshell and heat shield are also visible, noted Dr. Michael Malin of Malin Space Science Systems, San Diego, lead investigator for the orbiter's camera and a member of the rover science team.

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 .

Spirit Daily Update Archive

JPL press release archive

JPL image archive

P2K story and image archive