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For Release: December 30, 2003

Sally V. Harrington
Media Relations Office


The closer the two rovers of the Mars Exploration Rover (MER) mission get to landing on the surface of Mars, the more the excitement grows at NASA's Glenn Research Center in Cleveland and its satellite, Plum Brook Station in Sandusky, Ohio. Spirit is scheduled to arrive on January 3; and its twin, Opportunity, will arrive on January 24.

As landing safely and in tact on Mars is crucial to the success of the mission, those who were involved with testing the air bag landing system will be anxious to find out that the system worked as well in reality as it did during the testing at Glenn's Plum Brook Station. Researchers from Glenn's Photovoltaic and Space Effects Branch will have to wait until the rovers start moving around on the surface of Mars before they can see results from their work, which involves static charging and dust settling on the solar cells that generate energy for the rovers.

Working with their counterparts from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., Plum Brook engineers and technicians designed, built, and installed hardware to simulate the landing surface on Mars in the Space Power Facility (SPF), where the atmosphere and climate of Mars can be duplicated in the world's largest vacuum chamber. More than 50 drop tests of the air bag landing system were performed to reduce the risks upon landing. Each test was analyzed with regard to the effect on the air bags after bouncing off both natural and simulated rocks similar to those found on the surface of Mars.

"The proper operations of the air bag landing system are a vital part of mission success. The tests we did at Plum Brook played an important role in the risk reductions process," explained SPF manager Jerry Carek.

Dr. Geoffrey A. Landis, an aerospace engineer at Glenn, is the principal investigator for the "Study of Solar Energy and Dust Accumulation on the Rovers," one of 28 scientific studies of Mars selected for the mission. He is interested in how much energy solar cells will be able to generate under Mars' sunlight and how dusty a solar array can get before the rovers begin to lose power.

"Determining the efficiency of solar cells is critical to powering the computers that control the rovers and scientific instruments that send and retrieve data from Earth." said Landis.

Another Glenn engineer, Joseph C. Kolecki, has been involved in work that will control static charging within "safe" limits as the rovers travel across the dusty surface of Mars. Each rover has been equipped with four wire discharge points. The points will act as miniature lightning rods which will prevent the charging that could impact the mission by damaging instruments on the rovers.

For more information, photographs, and animation on the Mars Exploration Rover (MER) mission, visit

Media representatives interested in interviews regarding Glenn's involvement with this mission can contact Sally Harrington by phone at 216-433-2037, cell at 216-287-2316, or pager at 216-549-2245.

NASA TV will provide extensive mission coverage. NASA TV is available on AMC-9, transponder 9C, C-Band, located at 85 degrees west longitude. The frequency is 3880.0 MHz. Polarization is vertical, and audio is monaural at 6.80 MHz. Audio only of coverage is available by calling: 321/867-1220/1240/1260/7135. TV schedule:

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