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PASSPORT TO KNOWLEDGE - To MARS with MER

BOUNCING TO MARS
August, 2003

Who You Will See
Scientists and engineers appearing include Project Manager, Pete Theisinger, lead science investigator, Steve Squyres (Cornell), Project Scientist, Joy Crisp, system engineer, Jennifer Trosper, NASA's "Mars Czar", Orlando Figueroa, mechanical engineer, Kobie Boykins

Program Description:
BOUNCING TO MARS goes behind the scenes to tell the story of their design and development, in the words of the diverse team of men and women who brought the robots to life. Shaped both by the "up" of the success of the 1997 "Pathfinder" spacecraft with its small "Sojourner" rover, and also by the "down" of the failure of the two 1998 Mars missions, the Mars Exploration Rovers project has been a battle against time, technical challenges, and budget. From approval in summer 2000 through launch in summer 2003-an unusually short time for a mission of this complexity-it's been a continuous struggle involving thousands of men and women at Caltech's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, JPL, other NASA centers, and private companies and universities across America. They've been confronting tests and trials no less impressive than those showcased in "reality TV," but far more authentic and significant. This is heroic effort and extreme engineering in the service of answering one of humanity's oldest and deepest questions-Are we alone? It's "Monster Garage" meets "Cosmos", "Survivor" in space.

BOUNCING TO MARS features scenes in the world's largest vacuum chamber in Sandusky, OH, as engineers face unexpected failures in the airbag design they'd inherited from "Pathfinder." Raucous scientific meetings result in votes about where to land, and what to look for. A record-breaking cross-country convoy takes the spacecraft to the Cape, but even in the final days before launch the Mars Exploration Rovers team discovers potentially "mission-catastrophic" failures, resulting in what one researcher called "the hardest 3 weeks" in the entire project. Tough questions from review boards remind them about how important the Mars Exploration Rovers mission is to NASA and the nation, and how much is riding on their success, or failure. Two thirds of all missions to Mars don't make it, and BOUNCING TO MARS is the inside story of the Mars Exploration Rovers mission's efforts both to get to Mars and land safely, and do breakthrough science.