NASA Rovers' Adventures on Mars Continue
NASA lit a birthday candle today for its twin Mars Exploration
Rovers, Spirit and Opportunity. The Spirit rover begins its second
year on Mars investigating puzzling rocks unlike any found earlier.
Image right: This image from Opportunity shows a portion of the heat shield that the spacecraft jettisoned shortly before landing. This flank piece broke off from the main piece of the heat shield upon impact. Image credit: NASA/JPL. + Click for larger image.
The rovers successfully completed their three-month primary missions
in April. They astound even their designers with how well they
continue operating. The unanticipated longevity is allowing both
rovers to reach additional destinations and to keep making
discoveries. Spirit landed on Jan. 3 and Opportunity Jan. 24, 2004,
"You could have cut the tension here with a knife the night Spirit
landed," said NASA Administrator Sean O'Keefe. "Just remembering the
uncertainty involved with the landing emphasizes how exciting it is
for all of us, since the rovers are still actively exploring. The
rovers created an amazing amount of public interest and have
certainly helped advance the Vision for Space Exploration," he said.
The twin Mars explorers have drawn the most hits to NASA Web sites -
- more than 9 billion in 2004.
Dr. Charles Elachi, director of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory,
Pasadena, Calif., said, "Little did we know a year ago that we'd be
celebrating a year of roving on Mars. The success of both rovers is
tribute to hundreds of talented men and women who have put their
knowledge and labor into this team effort."
"The rovers are both in amazingly good shape for their age," said
JPL's Jim Erickson, rover project manager. "The twins sailed through
the worst of the martian winter with flying colors, and spring is
coming. Both rovers are in strong positions to continue exploring,
but we can't give you any guarantees."
Opportunity is driving toward the heat shield that protected it
during descent through the martian atmosphere. Rover team members
hope to determine how deeply the atmospheric friction charred the
protective layer. "With luck, our observations may help to improve
our ability to deliver future vehicles to the surface of other
planets," Erickson said.
Image left: Spirit's miniature thermal emission spectrometer examined this rock, dubbed "Wishstone," and data indicated that the mineralogy of the rocks in this area is different from that of rocks encountered earlier in the plains of Gusev Crater or in the bedrock outcrops examined so far in the "Columbia Hills" inside the crater. Image credit: NASA/JPL/Cornell. + Click for larger image.
Spirit is exploring the Columbia Hills within the Gusev Crater. "In
December, we discovered a completely new type of rock in Columbia
Hills, unlike anything seen before on Mars," said Dr. Steve Squyres
of Cornell University, Ithaca, N.Y., principal investigator for the
rovers' science payloads.
Jumbled textures of specimens dubbed "Wishstone" and "Wishing Well"
look like the product of an explosion, perhaps from a volcano or a
meteor impact. These rocks are much richer in phosphorus than any
other known Mars rocks. "Some ways of making phosphates involve
water; others do not," Squyres said. "We want to look at more of
these rocks to see if we can distinguish between those possible
NASA's next Mars mission, the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, is due to
launch in August. "As great as the past year has been, Mars launch
opportunities come along like clockwork every 26 months," said Dr.
Firouz Naderi of JPL, manager of NASA's Mars Exploration Program.
"At every one of them in the foreseeable future, we intend to go to
Mars, building upon the findings by the rovers."
NASA Chief Scientist Dr. Jim Garvin said, "Mars lures us to explore
its mysteries. It is the most Earth-like of our sister planets, and
many believe it may hold clues to whether life ever existed or even
originated beyond Earth. The rovers have shown us Mars had
persistently wet, possibly life-sustaining environments. Beyond
their own profound discoveries, the rovers have advanced our step-by-
step program for examining Mars. We will continue to explore Mars
robotically, and eventually with human explorers."
Images and additional information about the rovers and their
discoveries are available on the Internet at
JPL has managed the Mars Exploration Rover project since it began in
2000. JPL is a division of the California Institute of Technology in
Guy Webster (818) 354-6278
NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory
Dolores Beasley (202) 358-1753
NASA Headquarters, Washington, D.C.