10 July 2009

We're on Mars

The exploration rovers landed on Mars
01-04-04 and 01-25-04

“We’re back… and we’re on Mars”
Sean O’Keefe
NASA Administrator

Beginning in January of 2004 the Mars Rovers Spirit and Opportunity landed on Mars for what were to be 90-day missions to study the soil and rock composition of Mars. Each rover was equipped with a stereo panoramic camera pair, microscope camera, and three spectrometers, in addition to ten engineering and movement cameras. Missions should have wrapped up in early and late April of that year, but five and a half years later the rovers are still making their way around Mars. Spirit has traveled approximately 4.8 miles, while Opportunity has maneuvered along 10.38 miles of Martian terrain. The Sean O’Keefe quote engraved on the Spirit and Opportunity plaque, found imbedded in the Planetary Plaza area of Mission: SPACE at Epcot, is incomplete. The full quote reads, “We're back. I am very, very proud of this team, and we're on Mars.” If Mr. O’keefe was proud the night they landed, I can only imagine how proud he is, and should be, of a team whose rovers have lasted over five years on Mars.

In early May, however, the rover Spirit began movements that entrenched several of the rover’s wheels and made it possible for the rover to have issues with a rock underneath its belly. Currently, a test rover at Jet Propulsion Laboratory is being used to simulated the soil condition that Spirit has found itself in. the maneuvers developed with the test rover will be used to assist Spirit with its movement so that the drivers of the rover do not cause this unfortunate situation to become worse. The work currently being done with the test rover has been termed Free Spirit. You can view their progress at the Free Spirit site, and lets all hope this true hero of robotics is set free to continue his mission soon.

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