Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.
January 23, 2004
NASA Rover Team Ready for Second Landing
Some members of the flight team for NASA's the Mars Exploration Rover program are preparing for Sunday's landing of Opportunity. Others remain focused on trying to restore the first rover, Spirit, to working order.
"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 are examining the data tonight and developing a plan for obtaining more on Saturday.
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, 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.
Opportunity will reach Mars at 12:05 a.m. Sunday EST 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 the martian atmosphere contributed to a decision by flight controllers to program Opportunity to open its parachute higher than originally planned according to Dr. Wayne Lee, chief engineer for development of the rover's descent and landing systems at JPL.
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. 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. For information about NASA and the Mars mission on the Internet, visit: http://www.nasa.gov
Images and additional information about the project are available from NASA's JPL at: http://marsrovers.jpl.nasa.gov
Information is also available from Cornell University, Ithaca, N.Y., at: http://athena.cornell.edu
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