UNITED24 - Make a charitable donation in support of Ukraine!

Space

02 February 2004

Two U.S. Exploration Rovers Now Operating on Martian Surface

Spirit healthy again after experiencing computer problems

U.S. scientists report that for the first time in history two mobile robots -- the Mars Exploration Rovers Opportunity and Spirit -- roam the surface of another planet at the same time.

According to press releases issued by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, the rover Opportunity drove off its lander platform and onto the soil of a region of Mars called Meridiani Planum early January 31. One day later, NASA reported that Opportunity's twin, Spirit -- located halfway around the planet from Opportunity -- is healthy again following the development of computer-memory and communications problems 11 days ago.

Arriving on Mars January 24 in an airbag-cushioned landing, Opportunity will examine the soil in front of it over the next few days with a microscope and other instruments to determine what elements and minerals are present. Scientists report that gray granules covering most of the crater floor surrounding Opportunity contain crystalline hematite, which is of special interest because on Earth it usually forms under wet environmental conditions.

As for Spirit, part of the cure for its computer-memory problems involved deleting thousands of files from the rover's flash memory -- a type of rewritable electronic memory that retains information even when power is off. Many of the deleted files were left over from the craft's seven-month flight from its launch site in Florida to Mars. Onboard software was having difficulty managing the flash memory, triggering Spirit's computer to reset itself once an hour. Spirit is expected to resume examination of the rocks and soil around its landing site in Gusev Crater later this week.

The main task of both rovers in coming months is to explore the areas around their landing sites for evidence in rocks and soils that might indicate a watery environment in the past -- one possibly suitable for sustaining life.

Images and additional information about the rover missions are available from JPL at http://marsrovers.jpl.nasa.gov and from Cornell University, Ithaca, New York, at http://athena.cornell.edu

Following are the texts of the press releases:

(begin text)

National Aeronautics and Space Administration
Jet Propulsion Laboratory
January 31, 2004

Opportunity Rolls onto Martian Ground

NASA's Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity drove down a reinforced fabric ramp at the front of its lander platform and onto the soil of Mars' Meridiani Planum this morning.

Also, new science results from the rover indicate that the site does indeed have a type of mineral, crystalline hematite, that was the principal reason the site was selected for exploration.

Controllers at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory received confirmation of the successful drive at 3:01 a.m. Pacific Standard Time via a relay from the Mars Odyssey orbiter and Earth reception by the Deep Space Network. Cheers erupted a minute later when Opportunity sent a picture looking back at the now-empty lander and showing wheel tracks in the martian soil.

For the first time in history, two mobile robots are exploring the surface of another planet at the same time. Opportunity's twin, Spirit, started making wheel tracks halfway around Mars from Meridiani on Jan. 15.

"We're two for two! One dozen wheels on the soil," JPL's Chris Lewicki, flight director, announced to the control room.

Matt Wallace, mission manager at JPL, told a subsequent news briefing, "We knew it was going to be a good day. The rover woke up fit and healthy to Bruce Springsteen's 'Born to Run,' and it turned out to be a good choice."

The flight team needed only seven days since Opportunity's landing to get the rover off its lander, compared with 12 days for Spirit earlier this month. "We're getting practice at it," said JPL's Joel Krajewski, activity lead for the procedure.

Also, the configuration of the deflated airbags and lander presented no trouble for Opportunity, while some of the extra time needed for Spirit was due to airbags at the front of the lander presenting a potential obstacle.

Looking at a photo from Opportunity showing wheel tracks between the empty lander and the rear of the rover about one meter or three feet away, JPL's Kevin Burke, lead mechanical engineer for getting the rover off the lander, said "We're glad to be seeing soil behind our rover."

JPL's Chris Salvo, flight director, reported that Opportunity will be preparing over the next couple days to reach out with it robotic arm for a close inspection of the soil.

Gray granules covering most of the crater floor surrounding Opportunity contain hematite, said Dr. Phil Christensen, lead scientist for both rovers' miniature thermal emission spectrometers, which are infrared-sensing instruments used for identifying rock types from a distance. Crystalline hematite is of special interest because, on Earth, it usually forms under wet environmental conditions.

The main task for both Mars Exploration Rovers in coming weeks and months is to read clues in the rocks and soil to learn about past environmental conditions at their landing sites, particularly about whether the areas were ever watery and possibly suitable for sustaining life.

The concentration of hematite appears strongest in a layer of dark material above a light-covered outcrop in the wall of the crater where Opportunity sits, Christensen said. "As we get out of the bowl we're in, I think we'll get onto a surface that is rich in hematite," he said.

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, D.C.

Images and additional information about the project are available from JPL at http://marsrovers.jpl.nasa.gov and from Cornell University, Ithaca, N.Y., at http://athena.cornell.edu.


National Aeronautics and Space Administration
Jet Propulsion Laboratory
February 1, 2004

Mars Rover Spirit Restored to Health

NASA's Mars Exploration Rover Spirit is healthy again, the result of recovery work by mission engineers since the robot developed computer-memory and communications problems 10 days ago.

"We have confirmed that Spirit is booting up normally. Tomorrow we'll be doing some preventive maintenance," Dr. Mark Adler, mission manager at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., said Sunday morning.

Spirit's twin, Opportunity, which drove off its lander platform early Saturday, will be commanded tonight to reach out with its robot arm early Monday, said JPL's Matt Wallace, mission manager. Opportunity will examine the soil in front of it over the next few days with a microscope and with a pair of spectrometer instruments for determining what elements and minerals are present.

For Spirit, part of the cure has been deleting thousands of files from the rover's flash memory -- a type of rewritable electronic memory that retains information even when power is off. Many of the deleted files were left over from the seven-month flight from Florida to Mars. Onboard software was having difficulty managing the flash memory, triggering Spirit's computer to reset itself about once an hour.

Two days after the problem arose, engineers began using a temporary workaround of sending commands every day to put Spirit into an operations mode that avoided use of flash memory. Now, however, the computer is stable even when operating in the normal mode, which uses the flash memory.

"To be safe, we want to reformat the flash and start again with a clean slate," Adler said. That reformatting is planned for Monday. It will erase everything stored in the flash file system and install a clean version of the flight software.

Today, Spirit is being told to transmit priority data remaining in the flash memory. The information includes data from atmospheric observations made Jan. 16 in coordination with downward-looking observations by the European Space Agency's Mars Express orbiter. Also today, Spirit will make new observations coordinated with another Mars Express overflight and will run a check of the rover's miniature thermal emission spectrometer.

Spirit will resume examination of a rock nicknamed Adirondack later this week and possibly move on to a lighter-colored rock by week's end.

Each martian day, or "sol" lasts about 40 minutes longer than an Earth day. Spirit begins its 30th sol on Mars at 12:44 a.m. Monday, Pacific Standard Time. Opportunity begins its 10th sol on Mars at 1:05 p.m. Monday, PST. The two rovers are halfway around Mars from each other.

The main task for both Spirit and Opportunity in coming weeks and months is to find geological clues about past environmental conditions at their landing sites, particularly about whether the areas were ever watery and possibly suitable for sustaining life.

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, D.C.

Images and additional information about the project are available from JPL at http://marsrovers.jpl.nasa.gov and from Cornell University, Ithaca, N.Y., at http://athena.cornell.edu.

(end text)

(Distributed by the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)



This page printed from: http://usinfo.state.gov/xarchives/display.html?p=washfile-english&y=2004&m=February&x=20040202122209FJrelluF0.9207422&t=usinfo/wf-latest.html



NEWSLETTER
Join the GlobalSecurity.org mailing list