MARS EXPLORATION ROVERS
U.S. AND RUSSIA COMPETE TO REACH MARS FIRST
compiled by Dee Finney
The MERs of the U.S. aren't the only rovers headed to the Red Planet this
In June, the European Space Agency (ESA) is slated to launch Mars Express,
which is to deliver the lander, Beagle 2, to Isidis Planitia.
STRANGE SPHERULES AND FILAMENTS FOUND ON MARS
JAPANESE MARS VEHICLE GOING OFF COURSE
BEAGLE 2 LANDING ON
BEAGLE 2 GIVEN LAST CHANCE 1-26-04
WHERE ARE SPIRIT AND OPPORTUNITY?
PHOTOS FROM THE SPIRIT - ON MARS SURFACE
SPIRIT STANDS UP AND GETS READY TO ROLL - 1-9-04
SPIRIT ROLLS ON 1-15-04
HERE IS WHAT THE ROCKS ON MARS LOOK LIKE
MARS SPIRIT ROVER STOPS COMMUNICATING - 1-19-04
MARS SPIRIT ROVER BACK ON LINE 1-23-04
MARS OPPORTUNITY ROVER GETS SNAFU - 1-26-04
MARS TRUE COLORS
|Europe's first trip to Mars launched
First delegate leaves for international gathering at the red planet.
3 June 2003
Any self-respecting martian would be forgiven for thinking Earth is on the offensive. Beginning with today's launch of the European Space Agency's Mars Express mission, three other spacecraft are due to converge on Mars in the coming months. By early 2004, there will be more man-made orbiters and landers at Mars than ever before.
There's a perfectly peaceful explanation. These are science missions simply keeping costs down. This year, Mars lies a mere 56 million kilometres from Earth - the closest it has been for 60,000 years - so less fuel is needed to get to it.
After blasting off from Kazakhstan's Baikonur Cosmodrome, Mars Express, clutching its British-built lander Beagle 2, will arrive at Mars on Christmas Day 2003. It's Europe's first trip to Mars.
Orbiting the planet, Mars Express will study the martian environment. Using ground-penetrating radar, it will look for ice buried beneath the planet's parched surface. Cameras will produce three-dimensional images of martian topography while other instruments study the planet's thin but active atmosphere.
When the craft arrives at Mars it will drop its charge, the bicycle-wheel-sized Beagle 2, which will parachute to the surface. Equipped with a sophisticated geological tool-kit, Beagle 2 will look for evidence of past life trapped in martian minerals.
"Once we get there, it should be 10 days before we have a neighbour," says Beagle 2 mission manager Mark Sims of the University of Leicester, England.
That's when the first of NASA's Mars Exploration Rovers (MERs) are expected to touch down. It is due to launch from Cape Canaveral in Florida next week. An identical MER launches on 25 June, due to land on the opposite side of Mars later in January 2004.
The MERs are long-distance versions of Sojourner, NASA's first Mars rover. Their job is to cover as much martian terrain as possible, characterizing martian rocks as they go.
"The launch is an exciting time," says MER team member Matthew Golombek of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. Things get really exciting once the landers touch down. "We're all looking forward to operating the rovers on Mars," he says.
Shortly after the US and European missions arrive in December 2003/January 2004, the Japanese craft Nozomi should limp into orbit around Mars. The orbiter - designed to map Mars' faint magnetic field - was meant to arrive in October 1999. A violent solar flare destroyed its communications system at the beginning of its journey, throwing it badly off-course.
At half the size of Earth, there should be room for everyone either on or around Mars. The congestion does bring some worries, however. Data are sent to and from Mars using orbiting spacecraft and radio telescopes on Earth. The amount of information being gathered by the orbiters and landers will stretch this Deep Space Network (DSN) to its limits.
The huge amounts of data collected all have to be transmitted back to Earth.
The Beagle team have 19 days using both Mars Express and NASA's existing orbiter, Odyssey, to relay information back to Earth. "It will get much harder once [the second] MER lands," says Sims.
At this point, a sophisticated system of data routing will have to be put in place. "It's going to be a challenge, but from what I've seen of the detailed planning the DSN will be up to it," says MER mission scientist Steve Squyres of the University of Cornell in Ithaca, New York.
The more immediate worry is getting to Mars in the first place. More than half of all Mars missions have failed, and launch is the riskiest time. "With the spacecraft on the launch-pad, the whole thing becomes very real," says Sims. "We'll be so elated just to get to Mars."
© Nature News Service / Macmillan Magazines Ltd 2003
|MOSCOW (June 2, 2003) - An unmanned spacecraft built by the European
Space Agency blasted off atop a Russian rocket Monday on a mission to Mars
that includes dropping a British-built lander to search for life on the
The Mars Express spacecraft was launched by a Soyuz FG booster rocket from the Russian-operated Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan at 9:45 pm Monday, the ESA said on its website.
The space vehicle, which cost about $350 million will initially be put into Earth orbit, and about 90 minutes later is to be given the final push that will send it on a six-month journey to Mars - the ESA's first interplanetary mission.
Several days before the spacecraft reaches Mars in December, the British-built Beagle 2 lander is set to separate from the vehicle. It will parachute down to the Mars surface on Dec. 25. The tiny lander will be heading to Isidis Planitia, an area north of Mars' equator where traces of life could have been preserved.
Scientists think that Mars once had plenty of water and appropriate conditions for life but lost it billions of years ago, possibly after being hit by asteroids. It's believed that water might still exist on Mars as underground ice.
The lander would dig into Mars to search for organic materials and check the atmosphere for traces of methane produced by living organisms - looking for signs of life for the first time since 1976 when the twin U.S. Viking landers brought inconclusive results.
Mars Express will map the planet, use a powerful radar to probe its surface for evidence of water, and measure water concentrations in the atmosphere.
NASA is sending its own twin Mars Exploration Rovers later this month in a US$800 million mission to try to answer the same big questions about water and life on the planet, and a Japanese spacecraft launched in 1998 also continues its voyage toward Mars despite some electronic troubles.
The launching of many spacecraft at once isn't accidental - celestial mechanics are bringing Mars and Earth closer together than they have been for a long time, helping save fuel and travel time.
Of 34 unmanned U.S., Soviet and Russian vehicles sent to Mars since 1960, two-thirds ended in failure.
The spacecraft that succeeded helped vastly expand human knowledge about Mars. Just 40 years ago, some experts still believed that thick vegetation grew on Mars - that belief was dispelled in the 1960s by NASA spacecraft which beamed back images of Mars' barren surface.
The operation to eject Beagle 2 will be highly delicate, as the 143-pound lander is too light to have a steering mechanism and will have to rely on the 1.3-ton Mars Express to guide it into the proper descent path by dropping it at a very precise moment at a specified speed.
Once the lander is ejected, mission controllers will have to adjust Mars Express' trajectory and reduce its speed to allow Mars' gravity to capture the vehicle in another delicate maneuver.
Mars Express is set to remain in its orbit for at least one year - 687 Earth days. Its antenna will receive data from Beagle 2 and the orbiter's own instruments and beam it to Earth in daily communication sessions.
06/02/03 14:39 EDT
Copyright 2003 The Associated Press.
Beagle is prepared for Mars landing
By David Derbyshire, Science Correspondent
Beagle 2, the British probe heading to Mars in search of life, yesterday cleared its first major hurdle since its launch on Monday.
Watched by European scientists, bolts that kept the Beagle clamped to its sister Mars Express craft were successfully detached.
The probe, roughly the size of a garden barbecue, is now attached to its sister ship only by the sophisticated release mechanism that will hurl it spinning into the Martian atmosphere in December.
The hour long operation was controlled from the European Space Agency (ESA) centre in Darmstadt, Germany.
Prof Colin Pillinger, the Open University scientist behind the Beagle 2 mission, said: "The people at ESA are delighted. There were four things holding us on to Mars Express and now there is just one."
On Dec 20, Mars Express will release Beagle 2 and the probe will fall to the surface of Mars, protected by a parachute and airbags where it will analyse soil and rock for signs of life.
THE U.S. ROVERS
LAUNCH JUNE/JULY 2003 ---- LANDING JANUARY 2004
The landing sites are Meridiani Planum and Gusev Crater
|The two landing sites were chosen from more than 150 locations
investigated and analyzed by an independent team of scientists. Both Meridiani
Planum and Gusev Crater hold promise for confirming that water once flowed
over Mars, one of the mission's main science objectives.
"They are the ideal sites for this mission," Steven Squyres said. "If you look at Mars from orbit right now, you see two completely different forms of evidence for water: one is in the composition, the minerals that are present; the other is in the topography, the morphology, the craters with dry river beds flowing into them. And we've got one of each." In fact, Squyres' team had put these two sites at the top of their wish list in January. The list had also included Elysium Planitia and Isidis Planitia.
Meridiani Planum -- dubbed the "Hematite Region" when scientists discovered significant deposits of the unique gray mineral there -- is one of the more geologically complex regions on Mars, featuring a rich array of sedimentary, volcanic, and impact surfaces that span a considerable range of Martian history. Located 2-degrees south of the Martian equator, its relatively non-threatening terrain combined with its geologic features had put it at the top of most everyone's short list of landing sites.
Gusev Crater -- which is 15-degrees south of the Martian equator and half way around the planet from Meridiani -- is by most all planetary scientists' accounts, an excellent place to look for evidence of past life because it appears to be an ancient lakebed. Scientists have also detected the signature of sedimentary materials in this basin into which Ma'adim Vallis empties.
"If you're objective is to go look for evidence of past water on Mars, given that there are these two different classes of evidence what you want to do is send one rover to each and that's exactly what NASA has decided to do, so I'm just delighted," Squyres added. "We couldn't be happier."
The twin rovers -- which for the moment are designated MER-A and MER-B -- are slated to launch separately from Cape Canaveral between the end of May and mid-July. After a seven-and-a-half month journey, MER-A is scheduled to enter Mars' atmosphere on 4 January 2004. As it speeds toward its destination, it will utilize a parachute system to slow its decent. Protected by airbags, it will touch down and bounce to a stop, much like Pathfinder/Sojourner did in 1997. If all goes as planned, MER-B will follow suit three weeks later, bouncing to a stop on the Martian surface on 25 January.
The rovers will be renamed by students in a contest on the internet. The results have not been released as yet.
MER-A and MER-B weigh in at 180 kilograms (about 400-pounds), compared to Sojourner's 11 kilograms (about 24 pounds) and can travel up to 100 meters (330 feet), per Martian day, almost as far as the Sojourner tooled during its entire lifetime. The twin rovers will be analyzing rocks and soils with a set of five precision instruments collectively known as the Athena payload.
Once the airbags are deflated and the rovers are powered up they will become, in effect, robotic field geologists ready to roam their respective locales to learn about ancient water and climate on Mars. Their first assignments, however, will be to will capture 3-D panoramic images of the rusty-red landscape around them. The rovers will then proceed with their scientific collection and analysis work, which will last for at least 90 Martian days. If their systems hold up, the twins, no doubt, will continue working.
Sojourner blazed the rover trail, but the Mars Exploration Rovers could be viewed as MarsTrek: The Next Generation. While they utilize the same six-wheeled 'rocker-bogie' suspension system and updated versions of the electronic 'brains' and software that powered Sojourner and other rover predecessors built at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), these twin robot rovers are bigger and faster, can cover more ground and feature more sophisticated tools and instruments than the little wagonbot that captured the attention of the world six summers ago.
Winds were another critical factor, as were slopes against which the airbag-clad landers might impact. And, since the rovers are solar-powered, adequate exposure to the Sun is essential. While some sites -- such as Melas Chasma or Athabasca Vallis -- offered the potential for rich scientific findings, they, like so many others, didn't make the safety cut.
Meridiani Planum and Gusev Crater, though, are both located relatively near the equator where there is sufficient sunlight, and for the time being anyway, lack heavy accumulations of iron-oxide dust particles that could coat solar panels and interfere with the rovers' mobility.
While MER's Athena team of scientists and engineers have had their hands full with the details of the mission objectives, the dozens of other scientists who were not a part of the mission focused solely on the best places to put the rovers down. They mined data from Mariner, Viking, and more recent missions like Mars Global Surveyor and Mars Odyssey to come up with the initial working list of sites.
The Surveyor and Odyssey data indicated, for example, that Meridiani Planum may be so cold as to cut short the working life span of the rover, and showed a field of rocks in the Isidis Planitia that could puncture the lander's shock-absorbing airbags. New photos of Gusev Crater, meanwhile, clearly revealed tracks left by dust storms. These storms could interfere with the spacecraft landing. Theoretically, the winds could also coat the rover's solar panels with dust, blocking out the primary source of energy, as well as possibly burying geological details for which the rover would be hunting.
If Meridiani Planum sounds familiar, it's because it is the same site that had been selected for Mars Surveyor 2001, which was cancelled after the Mars Planet Orbiter and Mars Polar Lander missions failed. Many researchers believe Meridiani Planum is not only a geologically interesting locale, but may also be a good place to search for signs of past life because of the hematite, a mineral that on Earth usually forms in water.
Actually, on Earth, hematite is often formed in hot springs or in standing pools of water; therefore, many scientists believe that the hematite at Meridiani Planum may be indicative of ancient hot springs or that the environment contained liquid water, one of the prerequisites for life formation. [Astrobiologists generally agree that the search for extraterrestrial life should be based on liquid water.]
"The toughest thing about Meridiani site is simply that it's on Mars," offered Squyres. "Mars is a tough place to do business as the record shows. But given that it's on Mars, everything we know about it says that it's one of the safest places on the planet. The winds as best we understand them appear to be very light and the surface as best we understand it appears to be very smooth and benign. The abundance of potentially dangerous hazards like sharp, large rocks seems to be low. That there is this amazing coincidence [of] terrific science and wonderful [landing] safety together at the same place is to me one of the beautiful things about the Meridiani site. It almost seems too good to be true actually
NASA's choice of Gusev Crater -- which is approximately 150 kilometers (93 miles) in diameter and is named after Russian astronomer Matwei M. Gusev (1826-1866) -- is something of a surprise. Recent images from current missions revealed dust devil tracks, as mentioned above, meaning that the Martian winds could threaten a safe landing. These ground traces, which were produced by the now-legendary Martian whirlwinds, are also a telltale sign that there can be significant dust in that location, which could under particularly windy circumstances shorten the mission by interfering with the solar panels or by simply covering things up. Therefore, as far as the Gusev Crater site goes, the biggest concern there, of course, is the potential for Martian dust devils.
The MERs aren't the only rovers headed to the Red Planet this summer. In June, the European Space Agency (ESA) is slated to launch Mars Express, which is to deliver the lander, Beagle 2, to Isidis Planitia.
Info and photos from: http://www.planetary.org/html/news/articlearchive/headlines/2003/nasa_mer_sites.html
|American Geophysical Union
San Francisco, December, 2002
Robots to scrutinize Mars' rocks
NASA unveils plans for pair of Mars rovers.
10 December 2002
A year from now, NASA hopes to be making tracks on Mars once again, this time with two robotic six-wheeled rovers. The agency announced the mission's objectives this week at the American Geophysical Union's meeting in San Francisco.
The Mars Exploration Rovers (MERs) will be launched separately in May and June 2003. Swaddled in air bags, the roving twins will bump down on different sides of the red planet in January 2004, if all goes according to plan.
And it must - NASA's last attempt to land on Mars in 1999 failed when contact was lost with the Mars Polar Lander as it careered into the planet's atmosphere.
The MER team is confident: "These missions will not fail," says Mark Adler, the mission's manager at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.
Planetary scientists have their fingers crossed too. "We expect a phenomenal number of new observations, new data, and new questions," says William Dietrich of the University of California, Berkeley. Unlike their low-profile 1997 predecessor Sojourner, the MERs have a primarily scientific mission.
The rovers look like overhead projectors on wheels. Each sports a metre-high mast on which is mounted a binocular camera with a visual acuity akin to that of human eyes. "They will show you Mars like you've never seen Mars before," promises the mission's chief scientist, Steven Squyres of Cornell University in Ithaca, New York.
We expect a phenomenal number of new observations
University of California
The cameras will allow the largely autonomous rovers to cover about 100 metres of martian surface each day. They'll look for the most interesting rocks using an infrared imager linked to the camera. "It's all about the rocks," says Squyres.
Experts hope that trapped within different rock types are clues to the planet's past, uncorrupted by weathering and radiation. Each MER will also carry a grinding tool, a sensitive spectrometer and a microscope to examine the rocks' physical and chemical properties.
But the missions will succeed only if the robots land in the right places. A list of 185 potential sites has been whittled down to just 4.
The pair must touch down somewhere safe - "rocks bigger than half a metre are bad things", explains Matthew Golombek, the project's landing-site scientist. And they must land close to targets of scientific interest.
Gullies that may once have contained water, or debris from extinct martian volcanoes are high on the agenda. Final landing sites will be chosen in April 2003.
© Nature News Service / Macmillan Magazines Ltd 2002
|Mobile Mars Lab Simulated
in the Arctic
By Leonard David
Senior Space Writer
28 May 2003
GOLDEN, Colo. -- It's a humdinger of a Humvee -- one that is fully equipped with Mars in mind.
A modified High Mobility Multi-purpose Wheeled Vehicle -- or Humvee for short -- has been added to the technological tool kit at the NASA Haughton-Mars Project (HMP), stationed on Devon Island, Nunavut, in the Canadian high Arctic.
Tagged the "MARS-1", the Humvee rover is a powerful addition to scientific studies on Devon. The vehicle serves as a long-distance roving field lab. It also doubles as a test bed for studying the design and operation of future large pressurized rovers for the human exploration of the Moon and Mars.
The Mars Institute's MARS-1 Humvee rover is a new tool at the NASA Haughton-Mars Project's analog field research program. The vehicle was refurbished by AM General, manufacturer of Humvees, and equipped with Mattracks tracks.
The Mars Institute's MARS-1 Humvee rover for the NASA Haughton-Mars Project (HMP). The doors of the 8,800-lb (4 metric ton) vehicle were taken off for the 23-mile (37-kilometers) sea ice crossing between Cornwallis Island and Devon Island, High Arctic, to facilitate crewmember evacuation in the event of an emergency. CREDIT: NASA Haughton-Mars Project 2003: Joe Amarualik
The MARS-1 Humvee rover was driven and escorted by a four-person team, reaching Devon Island on May 11 after crossing the frozen Arctic Sea. They wheeled across Wellington Channel, a 23-mile (37-kilometer) expanse of perilous sea ice that separates Cornwallis Island from Devon Island.
MARS-1 is an element of the Mars Institute's participation in the Haughton-Mars Project (HMP) Science and Exploration programs. The SETI Institute, based in Mountain View, California, provides overall management of the HMP.
The arrival of the rover on Devon Island represents an important milestone in the research effort underway at the HMP, said Pascal Lee, Project Lead for the NASA Haughton-Mars Project (HMP) and Chairman of the Mars Institute. The HMP has been underway in the Arctic since 1997.
Lee discussed the rover's role at HMP during the Workshop on Analog Sites and Facilities for the Human Exploration of the Moon and Mars. The meeting was held here May 21-23 at the Colorado School of Mines.
For Mars explorers, a pressurized rover will likely be needed to reach faraway research targets from an encampment. That type vehicle would carry an expeditionary crew for days to weeks at a time. This slow-roving field exploration shelter and laboratory on wheels would support far-field science investigations.
The modified Humvee simulates a Mars pressurized rover, giving the Devon Island investigators "off world" practice in carrying out extended traverses. Furthermore, getting to where the scientific action is means mobility.
"What is interesting in geology is never readily available," Lee said.
On the NASA HMP, Lee said, field scientists do not simulate science tasks under simulated risk. Rather, scientists working at the site are engaged day-to-day in the actual process of trying to understand a field site while facing real life-threatening dangers in the relatively extreme environment of the high Arctic polar desert, he added.
Lee said the HMP could become one of several nodes forming a global network of analog sites and facilities for the advancement of space science and exploration.
The refurbished four-wheel-drive all-terrain rover rolled out of AM General's plant in Mishiwaka, Indiana, in May of last year, complete with the one-of-a-kind MARS-1 serial number.
MARS-1 sports a tall rear cab affording compact work and living space (including two sidewall-mounted sleeping bunks) for crews of up to four researchers engaged in lengthy field traverses.
The vehicle configuration is based on a military ambulance Humvee. To increase traction and tread lightly, the MARS-1 is equipped with wide tracks manufactured by Mattracks, Inc. The MARS-1 reached Resolute Bay on Cornwallis Island, the starting point of the expedition, on a C-130 transport plane of the United States Marine Corps.
To get to Devon Island, MARS-1 was maneuvered in shifts by operators that had received formal training in driving and maintaining military Humvees at the AM General plant prior to this Arctic trek.
To increase chances of survival in the event of a bailout, the MARS-1 was operated with each driver wearing a full-body Mustang flotation suit and the driver side door off.
This year, the NASA Haughton-Mars Project field campaign is anticipated to run from July 1, 2003 to August 5, 2003.
Researchers using the rover will go about their fieldwork in geology and microbiology as different sites on Devon Island are encountered. They will then remotely share their findings and experiences with collaborators, peers, students, and the public at large via satellite link.
|6-1-03 - Race is on to probe Red Planet
United States, Japan, Europe all relying on steely-eyed explorers
by Mike Toner
Atlanta - The next invasion of Mars begins this month. NASA and the European Space Agency will send an eclectic squad of space age robots - two rovers, a 150-pound beagle, a mole and a rat - to explore the fourth rock from the sun.
The robotic explorers constitute the most ambitious effort yet to explore the Martian surface in search of answers to what have become the paramount riddles of the Red Planet:
Where did all the water go?
And did it - or does it still - nurture some form of life there?
There's lots of evidence, from gullies and flood plains, that water once flowed freely on the surface of Mars. Today, however, all that remains are traces of water vapor in the thin atmosphere and a thin frosting of ice at the poles.
The convergence of June lift-offs is no coincidence. The planet is in a favorable position for launches from earth only once every 26 months. There won't be another opportunity until 2005.
When it comes to giving u its secrets, Mars has been a tough nut to crack. Of the eight missions to Mars launched by the United States, Russia and Japan over the last decade, only three have succeeded.
The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) hopes its $400 million pair of upcoming rover missions will redeem a Mars program that was badly tarnished by the 1999 losses of its Mars Polar Lander. The back-to-back failures forced an overhaul of the agency's entire mars exploration program.
NASA twin Martian rovers - yet-unnamed six-wheeled robots that look like golf-cart-sized monster trucks - are scheduled to be launched separately from the Cape Canavarel Air Force Station in Florida sometime between June 8 and June 25. Both are scheduled to reach Mars in January.
The rovers are more robust, solar-powered versions of Sojourner, the tiny mars rover that captivated earthly audiences in 1997 as it laid the first tracks of a man-made machine across the dusty Martian landscape.
Sojourner traveled about the length of a football field during the 12 weeks it operated on the martian surface. The new rovers will be able to travel 10 times as far, roaming like curious geologists up to a half-mile across the barren rust-colored landscape for at least three months.
Robots to parachute in:
Upon entering the thin Martian atmosphere, the spacecraft carrying the 400-pound rovers will descend by parachute to within 100 feet of the surface and then cut them loose. cushioned in a sphere of air bags, the rovers will bounce across the surface for a half mile, roll to a stop and then open up, much like the petals of a flower.
Landing on Mars is very difficult and it's harder on some parts of the planet than others," said Ed Weiler, NASA's associate administrator for space science. "In choosing where to go, we have had to balance science value with engineering safety considerations."
After considering 155 possible landing sites, scientists settled on the two that they think will provide optimal opportunities for the rovers to explore - not too steep, too dusty, or too rocky. On opposite sites of the planet, both promise to shed light on Mars' missing water.
The first rover will land at Gusev Crater, about 15 degrees south of the martian equator. Scientists believe the crater, which appears to be bisected by a large dry riverbed, once contained a lake.
The second rover will head for Meridiani Planum, where scientists have identified large outcrops of gray hematite, an iron oxide material usually formed in an environment where there was liquid water.
Each rover has a panoramic camera three times better than anything ever landed on Mars, a microscope, an array of spectrometers to analyze the composition of soil and rocks, and a rock abrasion tool - RAT for short - that will scratch and chip away at rocks just as a geologist would.
More than 100 scientists, using the rovers' cameras as their eyes, will choose the targets for investigation and help plot their travels. Because it takes 15 minutes for radio signals to make the round trip from Mars to earth and back, however, the robotic rovers will have to make some of their own decisions as they negotiate obstacles on the surface.
It' the mots complex robotic exploration attempted in the space program. The scientists who will direct it plan to spend most of the time the rovers are en route to mars practicing with identical rovers in a high-tech "sandbox" at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California.
"By the time we land in January, we're going to have to be very good at doing geology with robots on another planet," said Steven Squyres, Cornell University astronomer and principal investigator for the rovers' instruments.
While Squyres and his team are working on their 'Martian" driver's licenses, "European scientists are gearing up for their own mission, which could answer a host of questions about water on Mars.
Europe's Mars Express spacecraft will launch from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on Monday, or soon after. With an eye toward stealing a beat on the U.S. missions, the European spacecraft is scheduled to reach mars in December.
Mars Express is a two-part mission. The lander, named Beagle 2 after Charles Darwin's 19th century ship of exploration, won't be able to roam around o n the surface like NASA's robots, but it has capabilities unlike any previous Mars landers.
Beagle 2 will bounce down at Mars' Isidis Planitia, a flat basin straddling ancient highlands where scientists suspect they might find fossil traces of any ancient Martian life - traces that until now have only been hinted at in a handful of Martian meteorites that landed on Earth.
European robot will stay put.
Upon landing, Beagle 2 will open up like a pocket watch to deploy a robot arm and a position adjustable workbench - "PAW" to acronym happy engineers - and go to work.
In addition to three cameras, the lander carries a suite of spectrometers and environmental sensors designed specifically to look for evidence of past life on the planet. It's also equipped with a mechanical mole, a spring-loaded device that can burrow up to 3 feet into the soil to retrieve samples protected from the harsh, sterilizing radiation that bombards Mars surface.
While the Beagle works on the surface, the mars Express mother ship will remain in orbit. Aboard is a powerful ground penetrating radar that will 'see' water up to three miles beneath the surface.
There is already evidence of hydrogen,a component of water, beneath the polar regions of Mars, but scientists would like a much more complete picture of underground Mars.
"If there is a layer contained liquid water, it should generate a radar echo, explained Roberto Seu, one of the program's principal investigators.
by early next year, the stream of information being beamed back to Earth from Mars could reach unprecedented levels.
Two NASA spacecraft, Mars Global Surveyor and Mars Odyssey, remain in orbit around Mars and continue to photograph the surface.
And by December, one more spacecraft may be joining them.
In 1998, the Japanese launched the Nozomi spacecraft toward Mars, but a trajectory error and a shortage of fuel forced them to opt for a slower course than planned. After five years in space, Nozomi - Japanese for Hope - is still functioning. If all goes well, by December, it too, could be in orbit around Mars.
although it's hardly the kind of space race that pitted the United States and Russia against each other during the Cold War, Europe's entry into the field of Mars exploration makes both sides of the atlantic more conscious of who s first to do what.
Upon landing, Europe's Beagle 2 is programmed to transmit the first music beamed from the Red Planet -a composition by the British pop group Blur, music that is more likely to make cosmic history than the Top 40.
Blur'e Alex James describes it as "mathematical sequence of notes with a little bit of artistic license." Those who have heard it say it sounds a lot like the ring of a cell phone - or perhaps a wake-up call from Mars.
|Jun 1, 6:28 PM
NASA primed for Mars
Two-pronged assault expected to overcome Red Planet failures
By Kelly Young
CAPE CANAVERAL --In Roman mythology, Mars is the god of war. In recent years, he has lashed out at humanity's robotic representatives.
There are seven objectives for the Mars Exploration Rovers:
1. Search for and study different types of rocks and soils that might hold clues to past water activity.
2. Make maps showing the locations of different kinds of rocks and soils around the landing area.
3. Determine what forces have shaped the landscape - wind? water? volcanism? meteorite impacts? - and how the forces worked to create the landscape.
4. Take measurements of places on the ground that have been observed from orbiting spacecraft. This is called "ground truth." With ground truth information, scientists can take what they learn from the two landing sites and apply the conclusions to the other locations on Mars.
5. Search for iron-containing minerals and minerals that contain water or must have formed in water.
6. Identify the minerals and the textures in rocks and soils and determine how they were made.
7. Search for clues to what the environment was like when liquid water was present. Was it warm or cold? Was there a thicker atmosphere? Did the water last a long time? Was this environment one that could have supported life?
Of about 30 orbiting and landing spacecraft sent to Mars, approximately 20 failed. The space wreckage includes NASA's previous lander, the Mars Polar Lander, which crashed into the surface in 1999. The same year, the Mars Climate Observer failed to make it into orbit around Mars.
And Japan's Nozomi orbiter, now en route to Mars, was hit by a solar storm during an Earth flyby last year, damaging its communications and power systems. It's unclear how it will perform when it gets to Mars.
But NASA is about to fight its way back to the Red Planet, this time with a two-front scientific assault.
The first of two identical Mars Exploration Rovers is set to launch from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on a Delta 2 rocket as early as next Sunday. The second is scheduled to launch June 25.
"This is sort of like baseball," Kennedy Space Center Director Roy Bridges said last week. "You're not going to hit a home run every time you get up to the plate."
The space agency also has mounted a public relations campaign.
Archival coverage of the Pathfinder landing has been a constant staple on NASA TV for the past few months. Public Mars festivals have been held at the Merritt Square mall and Radisson Resort at the Port, as well as other sites across the nation.
Meanwhile, America's allies are lending their support. Today, the European Space Agency is scheduled to launch its own mission to Mars, the Mars Express spacecraft with the Beagle 2 lander.
But the American space agency still exhibits some caution toward the planet.
Dave Lavery, program executive in NASA's Solar System Exploration division, said one of the reasons NASA chose to fly two rovers was that if one of them fails, NASA could still get data from the other one.
That sort of fatalist thinking even guided the naming of the rovers. Students have submitted essays suggesting what to call them.
Lavery said that the monikers could not be too related. If one rover met an early death at the hand of Mars, the other rover's name had to be able to stand on its own. For example, the name Lewis is usually closely associated with Clark, and vice versa.
NASA is scheduled to announce the rover names on Saturday. Until then, they're known as A and B.
Getting into position
After launch, Rover A will fly for seven months to get to Mars.
On Jan. 4, 2004 it will take a plunge through the Martian atmosphere in an intricate sequence that will involve a parachute and airbag system opening at just the right times to slow the descending spacecraft in the thin atmosphere.
Upon impact, the airbags surrounding the lander will cushion the blow.
Engineers estimate the rover will bounce for six-tenths of a mile before coming to rest. Then, the airbags will deflate and the lander should right itself if it landed on its side. The landing petals will unfold, and in a perfect Mars, the rover will drive off the lander without a hitch.
"The thing that I'm most nervous about is probably all of that unfolding and getting off the lander," said Cornell University Astronomy Professor Steven Squyres, who will oversee the science experiments. "Once the rover is off driving around, it's in its natural environment."
How they stack up
The space agency hasn't successfully landed on Mars since the Pathfinder mission in 1997.
But in some sense, NASA never really abandoned its occupation over the fourth planet. Two spacecraft, Mars Global Surveyor and 2001 Mars Odyssey, are currently orbiting Mars, gathering data and snapping pictures. In addition to their other duties, they've scouted out landing sites for the rovers.
The twin rovers dwarf their sibling bot. If Pathfinder's Sojourner rover was a remote-controlled car, the Mars Exploration Rovers are riding lawnmowers.
Rovers A and B have a mast that supports a set of cameras at about 4 feet high. Its four cameras will provide a three-dimensional view of the surface. Engineers hope that this will provide people with a feeling of what it might be like to be there. By contrast, Pathfinder provided more of a dog's eye view.
In addition, the twin rovers are designed roam a bit farther than Sojourner. Each Mars Exploration Rover could go as far as 110 yards a day. That's about as far as Sojourner went during its entire lifespan on Mars.
On Pathfinder, the Sojourner rover toted around three cameras and an X-ray spectrometer. The Pathfinder lander had magnets, a camera, windsocks and atmospheric equipment.
By comparison, the new Rovers A and B each come equipped with the four cameras on their masts, three spectrometers and a rock grinder.
"I think (there) is much more science content on this mission than there was on Pathfinder," rover project manager Peter Theisinger said. He made the comment while clad in a "bunny" suit -- a white coverall suit with only the eyes showing -- to prevent contaminating one of the nearby rovers during a test this spring.
The landing sites
Once near Mars, the first rover will aim for a 60-mile long oval in the middle of Gusev Crater, just south of the planet's equator. A channel leads into the crater, suggesting that it once held a lake.
Rock sedimentation in the crater would be evidence of water. Erosion by wind and water creates sediment particles. Some of those can settle out and form layers. Over time, more layers pile up, compressing the sediments underneath until they cement and form rock.
"If the sediments that are water-transported are exposed, that would be interesting," said University of Arizona hydrologist Vic Baker.
But being able to determine that on site might be challenging.
For example, if wind eroded or covered up the sediment material over the years, it would be difficult to study, Baker said.
This is also probably younger material than sites studied by the Viking landers of the 1970's and Pathfinder.
The summer's second rover, slated for a June 25 launch, will land at Meridiani Planum, also called the Hematite site. Scientists are interested in studying the mineral hematite, which frequently forms in the presence of liquid water.
"They're significantly different than the other three landing sites we've had on Mars," Baker said. "In that way, they'll contribute something interesting."
NASA isn't locked into these landing sites. They could change their minds a month after launch.
Is bigger better?
Several scientists seemed to favor more of a blanket-bomb approach when it comes to the Red Planet rather than NASA's approach. Future NASA missions will be even bigger and more complex than these $800 million rovers.
Baker and others have mentioned that they would prefer to send many tiny, cheaper robots to Mars to study its geology rather than the mega-bots. That way it could send some of them to riskier places on Mars without fear that the team would lose the entire mission and years of work with one disaster.
But Baker understands the lure of the bigger, mobile landers.
"It's also a little more spectacular to also have the Star Wars-type robot," Baker said.
|NASA delays Mars mission
Sun, 08 Jun 2003
CAPE CANAVERAL, FLA. - Stormy weather forced a one-day delay Sunday in the launch of a rocket that will carry a rover designed to search for evidence of water on Mars.
Mars Exploration Rover (courtesy of NASA)
The U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) said the launch is now set for Monday afternoon.
Two rovers robotic geologists about the size of a golf cart are scheduled to be launched in rockets this month, targeted to arrive on opposite sides of Mars in January.
They carry cameras, spectrometers, a device to collect dust and a drill to dig for samples, all to help with the hunt for evidence of water.
"As you can tell, we're obsessed with this water thing," said Orlando Figueroa, NASA's Mars exploration program director.
There is no water on the surface of Mars today, but it was present in the past. NASA's "follow the water" approach to exploring the planet is aimed at:
determining whether life ever existed on Mars;
learning about its climate;
studying the geology;
preparing for human exploration.
The rovers are aimed at two sites where NASA thinks they are most likely to find evidence of water.
The rovers were dubbed Spirit and Opportunity by Sofi Collis, 9, of Scottsdale, Ariz., who won a competition to name them.
Written by CBC News Online staff
|Mars Rovers Named 'Spirit' and 'Opportunity'
Mon Jun 9, 9:14 AM ET
By SPACE.com Staff, SPACE.com
On Sunday, June 8, 2003, NASA Administrator Sean O'Keefe announced that the Mars Exploration Rovers had been renamed Spirit and Opportunity.
O'Keefe made the announcement at a press conference along with Sofi Collis, the 9-year-old who had submitted the winning names in a contest sponsored by The Planetary Society and LEGO.
Collis, a third-grader from Scottsdale, Arizona, was born in Siberia and had been adopted by an America family at the age two. Her submissions were selected from 10,000 entries.
"She has in her heritage and upbringing the soul of two great spacefaring countries, to be sure," O'Keefe said. "We have names for these rovers that are extremely worthy of the bold mission they are about to undertake."
The names are based on the feelings Collis said she experienced when she first learned she was coming to America.
"I used to live in an orphanage. It was dark and cold and lonely. At night I looked up at the sparkly sky. I felt better. I think I could fly there. In America I can make all my dreams come true. Thank you for the spirit and the opportunity," she said.
The Name the Rovers contest was open for K-12 American students. Essays justifying the name selections ranged in length from 50 words to 500 words depending on the grade level.
"Sofi wrote a moving essay that caught many people's attention in the judging process," Planetary Society Director of Projects Bruce Betts said on the society's website. "Thousands got involved in Mars Exploration through this process. The icing on the cake is that Sofi and her family are absolutely charming."
The Planetary Society also ran naming contests for Mars Pathfinder's Sojourner Truth rover, and the Magellan spacecraft.
A heavy line of thunderstorms moving toward the launch site prompted NASA to call off Sunday's attempt to send the Mars Exploration Rover-A, now dubbed Spirit, toward the Red Planet. They will attempt to launch on Monday, June 9.
Mars Exploration Rover-B, now called Opportunity, is scheduled to launch on June 25.
|NASA Reschedules Launch of 2 Mars Rovers
By MIKE SCHNEIDER
The Associated Press
Monday, June 9, 2003; 1:46 AM
CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. - Poor weather postponed by a day the launch of a rocket holding the first of a pair of golf-cart-sized rovers destined to examine the surface of Mars for evidence of water.
Storms and high wind Sunday forced NASA rescheduled the flight for Monday afternoon, although storms also were forecast over Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. The weather was expected to improve by Tuesday.
The second rover is scheduled for launch later this month, and both vehicles are to arrive at Mars in January.
"We sincerely hope it will be the successful beginning to one of the first great 21st century voyages of exploration," NASA Administrator Sean O'Keefe said Sunday.
The rovers were officially named on Sunday. Third-grader Sofi Collis, 9, of Scottsdale, Ariz. chose the name Spirit for the first rover and Opportunity for the second in a nationwide contest that drew 10,000 entries.
"I used to live in an orphanage. It was dark and cold and lonely," said Sofi, who was adopted from Siberia at age 2. "In America, I can make all my dreams come true. Thank you for the spirit and the opportunity."
The rovers act as robotic geologists, moving on six wheels. Each is equipped with a pair of panoramic cameras, a camera for close-ups and a drill to sample rocks.
Previous missions have shown Mars had water in the past, but scientists want to find out how long the water was there and in what amounts. Scientists believe the water may show that Mars once was able to support life.
The rovers' landing sites, on opposite sides of the planet, were chosen for their likelihood of holding evidence of water. Studying the minerals in rocks can tell scientists how the rocks were formed, whether they were ever submerged in water, and whether hot water ever ran over them.
The rovers are expected to travel up to 132 feet each Martian day, which is 24 hours and 39 1/2 minutes long.
The rovers' missions are expected to last three months but could run longer. They eventually will shut down as dust builds up on their solar panels.
Only 12 out of 30 previous attempts have reached Mars, and only three out of nine attempts have succeeded in landing on the planet. The current rovers cost $800 million.
On the Net: Rover Mission:
|Nasa's Mars rover launched
A rocket carrying the first of two Mars rovers has blasted off on a seven-month voyage to the red planet.
The golf-cart-sized vehicles will search for evidence that there was once enough water to support life.
The rover named Spirit lifted off from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida aboard a Boeing Delta II rocket.
Thunderstorms delayed the launch by two days, and launch officials contended with a last-minute communications problem between stations that will track the spacecraft.
The second rover, named Opportunity, will be launched later this month, and both are expected to arrive at Mars in January.
Moving on six wheels, the £486 million rovers act as robotic geologists. Each is equipped with a panoramic camera, a camera for close-up views of rocks and a drill to cut into rocks. The data will be transmitted back to Earth.
Previous missions claim to have shown Mars had water in the past, but scientists want to find out how long the water was there and in what quantities. Scientists believe the water may show that Mars once was able to support life.
The rovers' landing sites, on opposite sides of the planet, were chosen for their likelihood of holding evidence of water.
The rovers are expected to travel up to 39.6 metres each Martian day, which is 24 hours and 39 minutes long.
The missions are expected to last three months but could last longer. The rovers eventually will shut down as dust builds up on their solar panels and they will remain on the planet.
© Associated Press
Story filed: 21:45 Tuesday 10th June 2003
|Mars Rover Set for Early Arrival
Fri Jun 20,10:02 PM ET
PASADENA, Calif. - NASA successfully trimmed the course of a Mars-bound rover on Friday, putting the spacecraft on track for an early January arrival at the Red Planet.
The first of as many as six trajectory correction maneuvers "worked perfectly," mission manager Jim Erickson said from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
The maneuver involved a series of rocket firings that increased the spacecraft's velocity relative to the sun by nearly 32 mph enough to fine-tune its path for a Jan. 3 arrival.
NASA initially aimed the rover, called Spirit, slightly away from Mars to ensure the third stage of the rocket used to launch it did not trail it to the planet.
NASA aims to launch a second rover, Opportunity, from Cape Canaveral, Fla., early on Thursday.
The goal of the $800 million double mission is to send the twin wheeled robots roaming across the surface of Mars to prospect for minerals that could indicate whether the planet was once a warmer, wetter place hospitable to life. The rovers are to land on opposite sides of the planet.
|Posted on Tue, Jun. 24, 2003
Second Mars Rover Launch Set for Saturday
CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. - NASA said it will launch a second Mars rover on Saturday after officials repaired the rocket that will send the craft up.
The decision to go with the launch was made after NASA workers replaced a band of cork insulation on the Delta rocket. A second band of the insulation was examined and didn't show any problems, George Diller, a NASA spokesman at the Kennedy Space Center, said Tuesday.
NASA workers had been concerned that repairs on the second band could delay the launch even further. The Saturday launch is already two days behind its original schedule.
The launch was set for 11:56 p.m. EDT on Saturday. If needed, a second launch opportunity was set for 12:37 a.m. EDT on Sunday.
The first Mars rover was launched earlier this month.
During their three-month exploration of Mars, the rovers will act as robotic geologists. Each is equipped with a panoramic camera, a camera for close-ups of rocks and a drill to cut into rocks. The data will be transmitted back to Earth.
|6-28-03 - Second Rover set to launch, reach Red Planet in January
by Michael Cabbage
The Orlando (fla) Sentinel
CAPE CANAVERAL, FL.
The National Aeronautics and Space Administration is poised to dispatch tonight the second of two robot geologists on a $400 million mission to Mars.
The Opportunity rover - also known as Mars exploration Rover-B - will look for evidence of past liquid water on the Red Planet's surface. The goal is to answer one of science's big questions: Were conditions present elsewhere in the universe for life to evolve? Water is considered an essential ingredient for life as we know it.
"We know Mars has water," said Ed Wiler, NASA's associated administrator for space science. "We know it had it in the past. It may have it in the present. What we don't'know is how long this water persisted in any given place ... If it stayed there for tens of millions of years, then there is a good chance life might have evolved."
to reach the Martian surface, Opportunity must complete a looping 298-million-mile, seven month journey, then safely land. That odyssey is set to begin at either 8:56 p.m.PDT or 9:37 p.m. PDT aboard a Delta 2 rocket launched from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. Forecasters predict a 60 percent chance the weather will cooperate.
Once in space, OPportunity will chase sister rover Spirit, which lifted off June 10, 2003.
|6-28-03 - LAUNCH SCRUBBED TWICE
Monday 30 June 2003
Bad weather forces Nasa to postpone Mars mission
CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida:
Nasa postponed the launch of the latest Mars rover yesterday because of concern about strong wind shear.
A new launch time for the rover, Opportunity, was set for 11:46pm today on a Delta II Heavy rocket that was being used for the first time.
Nasa twice missed opportunities to launch the rover. The first opportunity at 11:56pm on Saturday was bypassed because of concern that winds could blow toxic clouds into populated areas if there was a mishap, and because a boat was in a restricted area. The second lost chance was at 12:37am early yesterday.
Opportunity, and its sister rover, Spirit, launched earlier this month, will act as robotic geologists during their three months of exploration on the Martian surface.
Expected to arrive on Mars in January, they are to send back images of sediment and mineral deposits that can help scientists determine whether there was ever enough water on the planet to sustain life.
The launch of Opportunity already had been postponed by three days because workers had to replace a band of cork insulation on the rocket.
The rovers are following two other probes on their way to Mars. Japan's trouble-plagued Nozomi orbiter, originally launched in 1998, is scheduled to arrive in late December or early January. Scheduled to arrive at about the same time is the European Space Agency's Mars Express orbiter and its British-built Beagle 2 lander.
NASA Sends Mars Rover On Its Way
08/07/2003 04:26 PM
Despite a late glitch that stopped the countdown at seven seconds, NASA managed to launch its latest Mars mission successfully on Monday after fixing the problem and resetting the clock.
(The glitch was a water valve that didn't shut properly)
The liftoff ended almost two weeks of frustrating delays for the space agency. Engineers had to scramble to diagnose a problem with a pressure valve on the first stage of the Delta 2 rocket in order to get the rocket off at 11:18 pm EDT (0218 GMT on Tuesday), 43 minutes late.
When the six-wheeled Mars Expedition Rover "Opportunity" reaches the Red Planet, it will scour the surface for signs that could point toward ancient life. Already speeding toward Mars is the first of the twin rovers, named "Spirit," which launched on June 10.
But the Delta rocket holding Opportunity had been idled since June 25 by scheduling and technical problems, bad weather, and even an errant fishing boat in restricted waters near the launch site. The $400 million mission finally got away in spectacular fashion, streaking across the night sky over Florida like a massive fireball, lighting up the beaches below.
The two rovers will land 6,000 miles apart in January, then begin their exploration, moving about the Martian surface for about three months, wielding scoops and drills to collect samples of soil and rock.
NASA said that scientists do not expect the rovers to find life there, or even direct evidence of ancient life, but they hope to determine whether conditions were favorable on Mars three billion to four billion years ago for life to evolve. "This is a desolate, dry, barren world today, yet when we look at Mars from orbit we see tantalizing clues it was once wetter and warmer," Steve Squyers, the Cornell University scientist and principle investigator for the mission, told reporters in a pre-launch briefing. On Earth, life was "somehow coming into being from non-living material" at about the time those same conditions existed on Mars, said Squyers.
But the twin rovers face not only a long journey across more than 300 million miles of interplanetary space, they must also land on Mars using parachutes to break their fall and airbags to cushion their landings.
Of nine spacecraft that have tried to land on Mars, only three have succeeded. Two other missions, one European and the other Japanese, are already headed for Mars. Like the Rover twins, they are taking advantage of a very rare proximity between the two planets that has cut the travel time to seven months from the usual nine to ten months.
Thursday 7th August 2003
Mars rover and payload
Is there life on other worlds or is planet Earth the only place in our Solar System where living organisms have evolved? ESA is inviting European and Canadian industry to participate in its exciting ExoMars mission in order to provide an answer to this age-old question.
On 9 July, the Aurora Programme Office issued an Invitation to Tender (ITT) for companies wishing to submit proposals for the detailed design of the ExoMars rover and its Pasteur payload of scientific instruments.
The deadline for submission of proposals is 13 October 2003, after which two companies will be selected to conduct the one-year Phase A design studies.
The ExoMars mission includes an orbiter and a descent module that will land a large (200 kg), high-mobility rover on the surface of Mars. After delivery of the lander/rover, the ExoMars orbiter will also operate as a data relay satellite between the Earth and the vehicle on the Martian surface.
The primary objective of the ExoMars rover will be to search for signs of life, past or present, on the Red Planet. Additional measurements will be taken to identify potential surface hazards for future human missions, to determine the distribution of water on Mars and to measure the chemical composition of the surface rocks.
The vehicle will be equipped with a comprehensive suite of scientific instruments - the Pasteur payload that will include tools able to extract, handle and analyse samples of Martian soil. The instrument mass of this payload is anticipated to be around 40 kg.
ExoMars is a very ambitious mission and a key step in the development of the Aurora long-term plan to send a human expedition to Mars, said Bruno Gardini, Aurora Project Manager.
Not only will it include Europes first planetary roving vehicle, but it will also be the first of its kind to carry an exobiology payload, a set of instruments specifically designed to search for life, he said.
Interplanetary spacecraft, and landing vehicles in particular, need to be very compact and efficient, with minimum mass and minimum power consumption, he added. The scope of the present study is, therefore, to provide an integrated rover design, efficiently combining locomotion, scientific instruments and rover subsystems.
ESA intends to launch ExoMars in 2009, as the first Flagship mission of the Aurora programme. The ExoMars Phase A studies will be financed by ESAs Aurora and ELIPS programmes.
|Japanese space program in trouble
Its Mars probe is wandering off course. Its weather satellites are breaking down. And its latest attempt to put a pair of spy satellites into orbit ended last weekend in a fireball, costing an estimated $110-million Canadian.
While rival China is basking in the glory of its first manned space flight, Japan's new space agency is off to a decidedly inauspicious start.
Is this the best we can do?, an editorial in the Asahi Shimbun asked after an H2-A rocket carrying the two spy satellites failed to launch properly and was detonated in mid-air over the remote Tanegashima Space Centre.
The failure was especially disappointing because it followed five consecutive successful liftoffs for the H2-A, a two-stage rocket designed by Japan to show off its technical prowess. The H-2A has served as the country's primary launch vehicle for several years.
Officials would not comment on the likely impact of the failure until they complete an investigation. The H2-A was destroyed minutes after liftoff Saturday because a booster on the side failed to detach itself, pulling the rocket off course.
We are investigating what happened, said Hiroaki Sato, a spokesman for JAXA, Japan's space agency. We still don't know how this will affect future launches.
Created in October to streamline and focus a space bureaucracy previously comprising three separate agencies, JAXA is finding success hard to come by.
Japan's highest-profile project, the Nozomi Mars probe, is due to reach the Red Planet this month after a five-year journey, but officials say it is off course and may not achieve orbit. They plan to try firing its engines next week in a last-minute effort to fix its trajectory and save the mission.
Just over a month ago, communications were lost with Midori 2, an environmental observation satellite. The launch of an H-2A carrying a multipurpose weather satellite to replace one that malfunctioned several years ago is scheduled for January or February, but that, too, is now looking iffy.
We'll just have to wait and see, Sato said.
The H2-A failure, the first launch since JAXA was created, comes after a series of glitches forced the liftoff to be postponed three times.
It's very unfortunate, Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi said. JAXA chief Shuichiro Yamanouchi apologized for failing in this very important mission.
Although Japan put its first two spy satellites into orbit in March, mainly to keep watch on neighbouring North Korea, it can obtain photos only every other day, a problem that the second pair of satellites would have solved.
An official with the cabinet's Satellite Intelligence Centre, insisting on anonymity, said the government would make do with the current pair for the time being. But he added that launches scheduled for 2005 and 2006 may advanced to compensate for the loss of the second pair.
Officials fear Japan's space program, already struggling to make the most of its limited resources, could face further budget cuts if the launch-pad disappointments continue.
JAXA operates with about 1,800 employees and an annual budget equivalent to $2-billion (U.S.), about one-tenth of NASA's. China's budget is a secret, but it is believed to have spent more than $2.8-billion on its manned space program alone.
Since sending its first man into space on Oct. 15, China has launched three satellites into orbit. In all, it has had 32 successful launches since October, 1996, Including the manned mission.
China has also said it probably will put two more astronauts into orbit within the next two years on the country's second manned mission, and its aerospace officials have said they planned to launch a space station within 10 years.
Japan could put a man in space in five years if it wanted to, said Saburo Matsunaga, assistant professor of aerospace engineering at the Tokyo Institute of Technology. But Japan doesn't have the luxury to do things like that at the moment.
Still, Mr. Matsunaga said, Tokyo's record has been good overall.
For the small number of launches Japan has done, the country has a high rate of success, he said. The U.S., Russia and China have experimented a lot with military-purpose space projects, some of which are totally covert missions, and have failed many times.
Christmas Day Mars Landing
In search of alien life, the European Space Agency's Beagle 2 probe will parachute to the surface of Mars on Dec. 25th.
Listen to this story via streaming audio, a downloadable file, or get help.
December 17, 2003: It's wintertime in the northern hemisphere of Mars, and a flying saucer is about to land.
Back on Earth where it comes from, the craft is known as the Beagle 2, sent to Mars by the European Space Agency in search of life. More accurately, the Beagle 2 will be looking for chemical traces of life--telltale signs that life once existed, or perhaps, exists right now on the red planet.
Touchdown is scheduled for Christmas Day 2003. The Beagle 2 will precede two NASA rovers, Spirit and Opportunity, slated to land in January.
Above: The saucer-shaped Beagle 2 detaches from its mother ship en route to landing on Mars. Image credit: Beagle 2, all rights reserved.
Named after the ship that carried Charles Darwin, the Beagle 2 is a self-contained laboratory shaped like a saucer, or a pocket watch, about three feet in diameter. Although it carries many powerful scientific tools, it weighs a mere 70 pounds. Being so light and compact, the Beagle 2 was able to hitch a ride to Mars onboard the ESA's Mars Express spacecraft launched last June.
While Mars Express, an orbiter, surveys the planet from a few hundred miles up, the Beagle 2 will be able to stick its devices right into Mars, sampling rocks and soil on the surface and below. NASA's Everett Gibson, the interdisciplinary scientist for the Mars Express/Beagle 2 mission, explains: We have two [ways] to get samples: a rock abrasion tool, and a burrowing mole." Both are embedded in the Beagle's robotic arm.
"The rock abrasion tool goes right up against a rock, removes its weathered surface, and can continue to go in and take out a little core--about 20 to 100 milligrams of sample," he says. The ability to remove the surface of a rock is important, as scientists learned when NASA's Sojourner rover scrutinized Mars rocks in 1997. They all looked much the same because their surfaces had been weathered by dusty winds and solar radiation. Beagle 2 will be able to sample the variety that lies within.
Charles Darwin. The Beagle 2 is named after the ship that carried Darwin on his famous 19th-century voyage of discovery.
The other tool, "the mole," is able to reach as far as two meters from the Beagle 2 and drill down about one and a half meters, gathering samples in its hollow mouth. Just like the core samples collected from inside rocks, Everett explains, soil found underground will have been shielded from, and less altered by, solar ultraviolet radiation. In these more protected samples, indications of life may be more likely to exist.
As samples are collected, they'll be brought back into the Beagle and heated in one of the lab's ovens. Gases released by this process will be analyzed by a mass spectrometer.
The Beagle will check for biological signatures by, in part, looking carefully at the types of carbon that it finds. Basically, carbon comes in both a lighter variety -- carbon-12 -- and a heavier variety -- carbon-13. On Earth, things that are alive tend to prefer the lighter kind. They use more carbon-12 in their metabolism. If the spectrometer identifies a sample containing more carbon-12 than would be expected in an inorganic sample of soil, that might be a sign that life had once dwelled there.
The Beagle 2's robotic arm bristles with scientific instruments.
The spectrometer will also check the atmosphere for traces of methane. This gas can be produced by living creatures. On Earth it comes from sources such as termites, cows, and swamps; on Mars it might come from extreme-loving microbes. Methane on Mars should be destroyed quickly, probably within a matter of months, by the planet's strong ultraviolet radiation. This means that if Beagle 2 detects any methane, something must have created it very recently. If the Beagle 2 can find methane, says Gibson, it will go a long way to answering that key question: Are biological processes operating on Mars?"
On December 19, the Mars Express orbiter will eject the Beagle. From then on, the little laboratory is on its own.
On Christmas Day it will hit the Martian atmosphere at a speed of about 12 thousand miles per hour. The resistance of the atmosphere will begin to slow it down, as a shield protects it from the heat of descent. A series of parachutes will emerge, each slowing the Beagle even more. At 200 meters above the surface, three gas-filled airbags will inflate to cushion its landing.
The Beagle is expected to touch down within the Isidis Planitia Basin. The landing site is at a low enough elevation to allow Mars' thin atmosphere enough time to slow the Beagle down. There are also some indications that Isidis Planitia contains ice, making it a promising place to look for signs of life.
Once the Beagle lands, it will open up, like a pocket watch. Four solar panels will emerge, and begin charging its batteries. It will send a signal saying that it's arrived.
"When the Beagle lands," says Gibson, "we won't know immediately, because we have to wait till Odyssey passes over. Odyssey is a NASA spacecraft thats been orbiting Mars for the past two years. The signal from the Beagle will hopefully be detected by Odyssey," says Gibson. Odyssey will send that signal on. And, about four to six hours after the Beagle lands, its first message should reach the Earth--hopefully the first of many.
The Beagle will continue its mission for about six months, collecting data and transmitting it back to Earth via the orbiters Mars Express and Odyssey.
Stay tuned for more Science@NASA stories in the weeks ahead about NASA's Mars rovers, Spirit and Opportunity, and the intriguing places they will visit on the red planet.
|Whatever Happened to Mars Polar Lander? U.S. Spy Agencies Might Know
By Leonard David
On January 3, 1999, NASA's Mars Polar Lander roared away from Earth on a bold mission to explore a unique region of the red planet. The spacecraft was to gently set itself down near the border of Mars' southern polar cap, the first ever spacecraft to study the distant world's polar environment.
Mars Polar Lander's primary landing site. The landing site at 76 degrees south latitude and 195 degrees west longitude is marked on a polar stereographic map of Mars' south pole.
After months of crossing interplanetary space, Mars Polar Lander was in the final minutes of slowing itself down, ready to make a self-controlled touch down. It was never heard from again.
Nobody knows for sure exactly what occurred at journey's end.
The loss of the Mars Polar Lander became a detective story that pitted photo analysts at a super-secret spy agency and NASA experts about the overall condition of the lost-to-Mars probe.
It's a saga of light and dark pixels, egos, and professional courtesy, and a report that never saw the light of day, until now.
On December 3, 1999, the Mars Polar Lander was plunging through Mars' atmosphere, headed for a soft landing on the planet's south polar region. Once safely down the probe was to establish radio chat with Earth and begin months of scientific work.
Attached to the Mars Polar Lander were a pair of small hitchhiking devices, the Deep Space 2 Mars Microprobes -- Scott and Amundsen -- which were to be ejected at high altitude to fall and penetrate beneath the martian surface. They too failed to phone home.
Following more than a month of attempts to bring MPL back from the dead, NASA declared the mission a failure. The loss spurred several intense studies, both internal and external to NASA.
Those assessments led to a "most probable cause" for the mishap, according to NASA.
Spurious signals when the trio of lander legs deployed during descent is thought to have given a false indication to onboard smarts of the spacecraft. It fooled itself into thinking it had landed, although it was high above Mars.
The result, according to blue ribbon study groups: a premature shutdown of the spacecraft's engines and the destruction of the lander when it fell onto the planet. In this scenario, the probe would have been destroyed as it smacked into the surface at 50 miles per hour (22 meters per second), reported a Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) special review board.
The lander was not equipped to advise Earth controllers what its step-by-step situation was as it zoomed in for a touch down.
Without any entry, descent and landing telemetry data, there was no way to know whether the lander reached the terminal descent propulsion phase. If it did reach this juncture, it is almost certain that premature engine shutdown occurred, investigators concluded.
The polar environment was more severe than the landing sites of previous missions. Far less was known about this exotic territory, but Mars Polar Lander was billed as an "exciting and significant step" in Mars research.
Mars Polar Lander's job was to focus primarily on Mars' climate and water. It carried an instrument suite to further scientific understanding of the climate history of the planet. It was outfitted with a robot arm, capable of digging into Mars in a search for near-surface ice.
In an early attempt to find the spacecraft, overhead search imagery of the MPL landing site was acquired by the Mars Orbiter Camera (MOC) system, carried by NASA's Mars Global Surveyor that had been orbiting the planet since 1997.
Both JPL as manager of the MPL mission, as well as Malin Space Science Systems, the primary contractor/operator of the MOC system, conducted additional imagery scans to look for the lander.
But locating MPL, or pieces of a wrecked spacecraft, proved inconclusive. Even if MPL sat on the surface intact it would have been tough to detect. The MOC system was right at the very limits of its abilities to clearly spot MPL hardware.
At NASA's request, a team from the National Imagery and Mapping Agency (NIMA) -- recently renamed as the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency -- carried out a detailed search of the primary MPL landing area utilizing MOC images and an array of high-tech analytical equipment.
Why NIMA? The agency is both a combat support as well as national intelligence agency whose mission is to provide timely, relevant and accurate geospatial intelligence, or GEOINT, in support of our national security. The agency is an acclaimed leader in describing, assessing, and visually depicting physical features on Earth. In short, it makes use of such hush-hush tools as spy satellites.
The NIMA Mars sleuthing work was led by Ivar Svendsen, who had 27 years of experience in imagery analysis, but who has since passed away.
Svendsen was joined in the search for Mars Polar Lander by the imagery expertise of James Salacain who had at the time chalked up some 15 years of specialized duty in support of the national imagery community.
Hunt for evidence
NIMA's task was straightforward. Use its imagery exploitation skills and techniques for locating and making out small human-made objects in terrestrial imagery -- but this time apply that handiwork to Mars.
The NIMA experts began studying dozens of Mars Global Surveyor surface shots of the most probable MPL touch down site and surrounding area. They were on the hunt for evidence of the lander, and other associated hardware -- such as a cast-off descent aeroshell and parachute. These objects, in theory, would be barely detectable by Mars Global Surveyor.
Also part of NIMA's investigation was gauging the different types of materials used on Mars Polar Lander hardware, including detailed looks at the reflective properties of the lander's solar panels.
In early and late 2000, the NIMA Mars surface scanning work was done. Analysis of the search findings was wrapped up in early 2001.
Details of the unclassified report to NASA were provided to SPACE.com by the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency.
Three candidate sites
The NIMA team identified three candidate sites that had "pixel returns" appearing to match the expected signatures of the lander and its associated hardware. A pixel is the smallest discrete component of an image. The greater the number of pixels-per-inch, the greater the resolution.
A central feature, tagged as site two, was assessed as the possible location of the Mars Polar Lander itself. This double "bright-spot" signature could very well be an upright lander, sitting on the surface with its solar panels in the deployed position, the NIMA experts reported.
Another pixel return, called site one, was subjected to intense scrutiny. The NIMA analysts believed that signature may well represent the lander's backshell, a protective cover that encased the robot probe during atmospheric entry. In every image of site 1, there appears to be an object visible on the surface that is brighter than the background. This object is located nearly two miles (3-kilometers) up-range from the possible MPL landing zone.
At site one, attempts to discern a large, 20-foot (6-meter) diameter white parachute that was to remain attached to the backshell proved problematic. The interaction of the parachute lying on the surface could be causing that signature to become indistinct, the search team concluded.
Lastly, a bright pixel at site three may be indicative of the presence of human-made materials, the NIMA researchers stated. This locale includes a possible high-velocity impact site, including what appears to be ground scarring, leading up to a glint. That glint could be the MPL heat shield, the analytical team surmised.
The bottom line to the NIMA assessment: The Mars Polar Lander failure likely occurred late in the spacecraft's rocket engine-powered descent phase, or perhaps even after landing.
NIMA's findings about the fate of Mars Polar Lander were surprising to NASA.
NASA, in turn, reviewed the NIMA story -- a nicely bound report, one that was complete with lots of Mars Global Surveyor imagery, other color pictures, drawings, circles and arrows throughout.
According to a source familiar with the report, and taking into account expert advice about the inner workings of Mars Global Surveyor's MOC system, NIMA got it "embarrassingly wrong."
The suspect pixels probed by NIMA were identified as electronic noise in the MOC hardware. The NIMA experts didn't detect Mars Polar Lander, the source said, "they detected noise."
On March 26, 2001, a joint NASA/NIMA release was issued by the space agency. It saluted NIMA's investigative skills, underscoring the principal challenges in locating the missing lander. One major problem being that the Mars Polar Lander is only somewhat larger -- about six and a half feet across -- than the smallest objects the Mars Global Surveyor's camera can see on the surface of Mars.
Furthermore, NASA made it clear that it had its own "alternative view" of NIMA's findings. It noted that "these features could be noise introduced by the camera system, so further work between NASA and NIMA will be conducted to address differences of interpretation."
At NASA, the report was deep-sixed. The space agency did not want to be in a position of seeing NIMA embarrassed, the source said. "The space agency didn't want to look like it was invalidating the work or claiming to invalidate the work of our nation's premier spy agency."
Case closed? Not by a long shot.
Resolving the mystery
In a December 2002 article in Geospatial Intelligence Review, the two NIMA analysts, Svendsen and Salacain, remain steadfast about their observations. The signatures at the three sites studied "appeared to be reflected light or glints" from some portion of the Mars Polar Lander Entry, Descent and Landing system and/or the lander itself, they asserted.
The NIMA team does note that spurious camera noise cannot be ruled out. However, "the coincidental appearance of spurious noise within the MPL primary landing site that also happened to emulate MPL-like imagery signatures was considered unlikely."
In a postscript to their work, the NIMA researchers underscored the fact that NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO), set for takeoff in 2005, is built to take very-high-resolution snapshots of the planet's surface. Those MRO images "may help finally resolve the mystery of what actually happened to the MPL," they explained.
"If not, the MPL mystery may have to patiently away a final and definitive investigation by a future visiting astronaut on-site inspection team from Earth," the NIMA experts concluded.
The People's Camera
Onboard the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter will be the HiRISE (High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment). This super-powerful camera will reveal small-scale objects in the debris blankets of mysterious gullies and details of geologic structure of canyons, craters, and layered deposits. And it could also take long shots at finding Mars Polar Lander.
HiRISE should be able to resolve objects a little smaller than 3.3 feet (1 meter) diameter, said Alfred McEwen, the principal investigator of HiRISE at the University of Arizona in Tucson. "But the Martian surface is littered with meter-scale objects, so we could image the lander but not be able to distinguish it from a boulder," he told SPACE.com.
The camera also has color imaging capability, so perhaps a bump with an anomalous color could be detected, McEwen said. "Or maybe there's a strewn field, perhaps including a few pieces we could detect as pixels with anomalous colors," he added.
McEwen said he was not enthusiastic about taking on such a search for Mars Polar Lander, unless there are specific locations that are strong candidates. "But if NASA wants us to make a more extensive search, then we will certainly cooperate."
HiRISE has already been dubbed "The People's Camera." The science community and the broader public as a whole are encouraged to participate in HiRISE targeting and data analysis. Anyone may submit suggested image targets, as discussed on a HiRISE web site: http://hirise.lpl.arizona.edu/HiRISE/public.html
Tracking down the final resting spot for Mars Polar Lander offers a form of technological closure, said Steven Jolly, chief engineer for Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter at the Denver-based Lockheed Martin Space Systems Company. The aerospace firm also built Mars Polar Lander, with Jolly then serving as the company's flight operations lead for the mission.
"For all of us that worked on that spacecraft, we'd love to know what went wrong," Jolly said. "All of us wished that there was confirmation of the NIMA thoughts. That would tell us an awful lot about the whole entry, descent, and landing sequence," he said.
Jolly told SPACE.com that spacecraft engineers wrestled with lots of scenarios that might have led to Mars Polar Lander going deaf, dumb, and blind.
For one, the craft could have failed to deploy an antenna, the only direct-to-Earth link. Then there's the view that it touched down on the side of a hill, tipping over and also negating radio communications. There were even intriguing, but never substantiated signals that looked like a coherent utterances from the lander.
Clearly, the post-mortem "probable cause" for Mars Polar Lander's failure must be taken into account too. Those flaws singled out by investigative groups, Jolly said, are being solidly addressed in the Phoenix Scout mission -- a lookalike lander scheduled to head for Mars in 2007.
But there remain those that think the lander might have survived a premature engine shutdown and free-fall "crunch down" on Mars. "It's quite possible that the lander is in exactly the condition that's been postulated by NIMA," Jolly said. "So it's not out of the realm of possibility that it could be viewable."
"We owe it to the American public and to our own conscious to probably take a look with the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter," Jolly said. "But I don't think I would conduct a search. That would take too much in the way of precious resources that ought to be applied to the science that MRO represents. But certainly a few attempts should be made."
Jolly admitted that there is still residual hope that someday Mars Polar Lander will be found on the planet, sitting there fairly intact.
But if this turns out to be the case, Jolly said that raises a key question: "Why the heck didn't it work?"
This article is part of SPACE.com's weekly Mystery Monday series
|European Space Probe Descends Toward Mars
Dec 24, 6:11 PM (ET)
By DAVID McHUGH
(AP) Planet Mars is a distance of about 5.4 million kilometers, (3.36 million miles)
DARMSTADT, Germany (AP) - European space officials on Wednesday tensely awaited the landing of their first probe on Mars, sending final commands to prepare its accompanying mother ship to start orbiting the planet as the Beagle 2 probe plunged toward the surface.
Beagle 2, which separated on Friday from the larger Mars Express orbiter, was expected to enter the Martian atmosphere and land at about 3:45 a.m. Christmas morning - Mission Control time - using parachutes and gas bags to cushion the impact.
At about the same time, Mars Express will fire its main engine for 34 minutes to slow it into orbit, a maneuver critical to the mission's success.
But controllers will have to wait several hours or even days to pick up the first signals from Beagle 2, if it survives the fiery 7 1/2-minute plunge through the Martian atmosphere.
The 143-pound lander, shaped like an oversized wok, won't communicate until it can open its solar panels and charge its batteries using the sun's energy.
Confirmation that the Mars Express successfully entered orbit also won't come for several hours, until it emerges from the far side of the planet.
Mission controllers sent the last commands to Mars Express Wednesday morning, telling it to heat its fuel tanks and switch off nonessential equipment so it won't interfere with the maneuver.
"We have loaded the sequence and then we have switched off as many systems as possible - everything that is not absolutely needed," said mission control spokeswoman Jocelyne Landeau-Constantin. "Everything is going fine."
"From this point, the tension really starts to grow," flight director Michael McKay said in a statement. "We don't have a lot more to do except watch and wait."
The first chance to hear from Beagle 2 - named for the ship that carried naturalist Charles Darwin on his voyage of discovery in the 1830s - comes Christmas morning in Europe when the U.S. Mars Odyssey spacecraft, already orbiting the planet, has a chance to pick up and relay a signal.
If that doesn't work, the Jodrell Bank Observatory in Britain will try to pick up Beagle's signal later Christmas Day.
Mars Express' entry to orbit is critical for the mission, since the mother craft will relay Beagle's scientific data back to earth.
It won't be in position to make contact with Beagle until Jan. 3 because its initial orbit is too high and will have to be corrected.
Beagle is designed to use a robotic arm to sample surface rock and soil for signs of past or present life.
Meanwhile, Mars Express will orbit overheard for at least a Martian year, or 687 Earth days, probing as deep as 2.5 miles below the surface with a powerful radar to look for underground water. It will also map the surface with a high-resolution stereo camera.
Scientists believe that billions of year ago Mars may have had enough liquid surface water to support life, and that life might have survived in cavities underground. The planet's surface has features that some think could be dry riverbeds and ancient coastlines.
But getting there is risky. Of 34 unmanned American, Soviet and Russian missions to Mars since 1960, two-thirds have ended in failure.
The United States successfully landed two Viking craft in 1976 and Mars Pathfinder in 1997, but two years later lost the Mars Polar Lander during descent. Japan this month abandoned a Mars mission after failing to position the Nozomi probe on planetary orbit.
NASA's Spirit, one of two identical robot explorers, is expected to land Jan. 3. Its sibling, Opportunity, is scheduled to settle on the opposite side of the planet Jan. 24.
European controllers won't give up if no signal from Beagle 2 is detected Thursday. For one thing, NASA's Odyssey craft should have more than one chance in the following days to make contact.
"It doesn't have to mean anything," mission control spokesman Bernhard von Weyhe said. "It can mean it needs more time to be unfolded, or it's at a funny angle."
If all goes well, Beagle is expected to transmit its first pictures from Mars as early as Dec. 29-Dec. 31. The first radar pictures from Mars Express are expected in the spring.
|Last Update: Thursday, December 25, 2003. 4:45pm (AEDT)
Mars mission leader Professor Colin Pillinger (Reuters)
Scientists await news from Mars mission
Scientists are awaiting confirmation that the British-built spacecraft Beagle 2 has touched down on the surface of the planet Mars. Beagle 2 should have landed at 0254 GMT, but nothing will be heard from either spacecraft until 0630 GMT at the earliest.
The New Norcia deep space ground station, 130 kilometres north of Perth, is set to record the landing of the European Space Agency's first Mars probe.
The deep space ground station will play a vital role in the project, relaying information transmitted from the probe back to the European Space Agency's (ESA) mission control in Darmstadt, Germany.
If all goes as planned, Beagle 2 will send back a stream of data headed by a call sign composed by the British rock band Blur.
The spacecraft's plunge through the thin atmosphere of Mars, slowed by parachutes and cushioned by airbags, is the most dangerous part of the mission.
If successful, the $84m probe it will begin a 180-day mission to search for signs of life after a 400 million kilometre voyage which has taken six months.
Earlier, Beagle 2's mothership, Europe's Mars Express craft, successfully entered into orbit around the planet.
New Norcia station manager Roly Morin says images from the probe should begin to arrive on New Year's Day.
"The actual images aren't going to be received until January 1 but we should have some form of confirmation just after Christmas Day that the Beagle has landed safely," he said.
"We all hope that they discover some form of life on Mars, or past life."
Meanwhile, the British bookmaker Ladbrokes has cut its odds on the chances of finding life on Mars following a flurry of bets since the probe successfully broke free from its mother craft, the Mars Express, last week.
Ladbrokes has had a book open on the event since 1969, when man first walked on the moon.
The odds are now 25-to-1, down from 33-to-1 a few days ago.
|12-25-03 - 6:33am (UK)
Has the Beagle Landed ? - 'No Signal from Probe'
By John von Radowitz, Science Correspondent, PA News
Scientists have failed to receive a call sign message from Beagle 2 telling them it has landed safely on Mars, the missions chief scientist Professor Colin Pillinger said today.
The fate of Beagle 2 is now uncertain and mission controllers must wait until 10pm tonight for their next chance to check if the British probe has survived.
Speaking at the Open Universitys offices in Camden, north London, Prof Pillinger told waiting reporters: Im afraid its a bit disappointing but its not the end of the world. Please dont go away from here believing weve lost the spacecraft.
|Europe's Mars probe launched into orbit successfully
Darmstadt (Germany), December 25
Europe's Mars Express went into orbit around Mars early on Thursday, the flight director said, as controllers awaited word on whether the companion Beagle 2 surface probe had landed safely on the Red Planet.
Flight director Michael McKay said controllers had detected a signal from a small antenna aboard the ship as it emerged from behind Mars on schedule at 0411 GMT on Christmas Day.
However, he cautioned that the signal lacked data that would confirm the spacecraft was still in working order.
Mars Express reappeared following a manoeuvre in which it fired its engine to slow it enough for Mars' gravity to pull it into orbit - crucial for Beagle because the orbiter will relay the lander's data back to Earth.
The signal "was the first good indication that the burn went well,'' McKay said, confirming that Mars Express was in orbit.
Final confirmation that the manoeuvre was successful was expected to take about another three hours as controllers turned the main antenna on Mars Express, which was reversed for the orbit manoeuvre, to face Earth.
Jodrell Bank can scan a large area of the Martian surface
The prospects for the Beagle 2 lander on Mars look increasingly gloomy after a radio sweep of the planet failed to detect any sign of the UK-built probe.
The Jodrell Bank telescope in Cheshire scanned Mars for two hours late on Thursday, but no signal was picked up indicating the lander was alive.
Scientists remain optimistic despite the silence and further efforts will be made to contact Beagle on Friday.
The big fear is the probe could have crashed into the Martian surface.
"Jodrell Bank listened out for Beagle 2 tonight, but did not detect a transmission," said team spokesman Peter Barratt.
Nasa's Mars Odyssey craft will pass over the landing zone at 1815 GMT on Boxing Day.
WHY MIGHT BEAGLE NOT CALL?
A computer glitch has delayed the transmission
Perhaps the probe has a misaligned antenna
There was some catastrophic failure during landing
Beagle made it down but fell into a crevasse
The US space agency orbiter has already tried once to hear a transmission from Beagle - and failed. Researchers must hope it has better luck on the second fly-over.
The Beagle 2 lander was supposed to have dived into the Martian atmosphere at 0245 GMT on Christmas Day and reached the surface about seven minutes later; its impact softened by parachutes and gas-filled bags.
The scientific team are expecting a pre-planned signal from the disc-shaped robotic probe, informing Earth it survived the fiery entry.
A picture of itself and the surrounding terrain should also be among the early data returns.
Even if Mars Odyssey fails on Friday to capture and relay the Beagle transmission, the search for the British lander will go on.
Both Jodrell and Odyssey will have other opportunities in the coming days to sweep the Martian surface for signs of the 70-kg robotic probe.
In addition, the Beagle team have been offered the services of another large radio telescope at Stanford in California to assist the search.
And Mars Express (Beagle's mothership) should also be in position soon to try to make contact with its "baby".
The success of Mars Express in obtaining an orbit around the Red Planet has certainly cheered European scientists as they endure the agony of waiting for word on Beagle.
Controllers at the European Space Agency's (Esa) operations centre at Darmstadt, Germany, clapped and hugged each other when a big screen showed blips indicating they had regained the orbiter's data feed after it emerged from behind Mars following its first circle.
"At least the initial checks show that the spacecraft is in very good condition," said flight director Michael McKay.
The orbit of Mars Express must now be refined so it can take up its science mission - and make contact with Beagle if it truly is operational on the surface.
"The arrival of Mars Express is a great success for Europe and for the international science community. Now, we are just waiting for a signal from Beagle 2 to make this Christmas the best we could hope for," said David Southwood, head of Esa's science directorate.
Mars Express is the major part of the European mission - Beagle was a late add-on - and will search for water, ice and key chemicals buried under the Martian surface.
It has a powerful stereo camera system which could in early January, if all else fails, search the planet for signs of Beagle's parachutes and airbags.
Beagle scientists will update the media on their search for the lander on Friday morning, London time.
|Signal hunt goes on for Mars probe
Compiled by Our Staff From Dispatches AP, Reuters
Friday, December 26, 2003
LONDON Space scientists remained optimistic Friday that their Martian probe had landed safely on the Red Planet, despite hearing no transmissions from the Beagle 2 craft.
"We are not in any way giving up yet," said Colin Pillinger, lead scientist on the project. He said the team had 13 more opportunities to hear from Beagle, before its mother ship, the Mars Express, could try to establish contact.
"We will hang on, testing and waiting and checking with Beagle 2, until Mars Express is able to look for us, and that won't happen until Jan. 4," he added.
The European probe, designed to search for signs of life on Mars, was believed to have landed on the planet early in the morning Thursday, its impact softened by parachutes and gas bags.
The mission team had gathered in London in the early hours Thursday, hoping to hear the probe broadcasting its signature tune, which was composed for the occasion by a British pop group, Blur. But Beagle 2 remained silent.
A U.S. spacecraft, the Mars Odyssey, which is orbiting the planet, failed to receive a signal in an early overflight.
A radio telescope at the Jodrell Bank Observatory in Cheshire, England, also failed to detect Beagle's call sign, despite scanning the Martian surface for five hours late Thursday.
"A search for a Beagle 2 radio signal was carried out without success," the mission organizers said Thursday evening of the second attempt, in a posting on their Web site, www.beagle2.com.
The failure to pick up a signal raised fears that the probe, no bigger than an open umbrella, had suffered the same fate as many craft before it and ended up as scrap metal strewn across the bleak Martian landscape.
The scientists were to make their next attempt at Friday evening. They can try at regular intervals over the next few weeks, but with each failed effort, hopes for the mission grow slimmer. (AP, Reuters)
|Astronomers fear Beagle is trapped in deep crater
By Charles Arthur, Technology Editor
30 December 2003
The Government would back another mission to Mars if the present Beagle-2 attempt fails, the Science minister, Lord Sainsbury of Turville, said yesterday.
British scientists now think that the missing lander, which entered the planet's atmosphere on Christmas Day but has since sent back no signals, could have fallen into a crater known to be in the middle of the landing zone and may be damaged, or unable to get any sunlight to recharge its batteries.
While the Beagle team continued to puzzle over methods to contact the lander, Lord Sainsbury said: "Long-term, we need to be working with the European Space Agency to ensure that in some form there is a Beagle-3 which takes forwards this technology ... We've always recognised that Beagle-2 was a high-risk project, and we must avoid the temptation in future to only do low-risk projects."
Meanwhile a "tiger team" set up by the project to try to contact the lander has ruled out two possible explanations for the silence of the lander, while adding possibility of the previously unnoticed crater. They have decided that there is no problem with the onboard clock, or with communications methods. Dr Mark Sims, Beagle-2 mission manager, from the University of Leicester, said yesterday: "We are working under the assumption that Beagle-2 is on the surface of Mars and for some reason cannot communicate to us."
The fear is that it could have fallen into a deep crater in the landing zone, which had previously been thought to be a wide, flat area, ideal for the bouncing landing, buffered by gas bags, that was planned. The lander is about the size of a bicycle wheel and weighs 33kg (72lb).
Professor Colin Pillinger, the chief scientist and motivator for Beagle-2, said: "We'd have to be incredibly accurate and incredibly unlucky to go right down this crater, which of course would not be good news. There's going to be [meteor] impact debris around it, which means more rocks. It would certainly make the bouncing process worse. The last thing we wanted was to bounce on slopes or on more rocks."
The crater is about a kilometre (1,100yds) wide and could be hundreds of metres deep. It lies like a bull's-eye at the centre of the 700sq km (435 sq mile) target area on Isidis Planitia, near the Martian equator. It was revealed by close-up pictures taken by the Nasa orbiter Mars Global Surveyor minutes after the British probe was supposed to have landed.
Professor Pillinger said planning a landing on Mars was always a case of "swings and roundabouts".
When Beagle-2 separated from Mars Express on 19 December it was set to become the first European spacecraft to land on another planet. During its 180-day mission it was programmed to test rock, soil and air samples for signs of life.
|Destination: Gusev Crater
On January 3, 2004, NASA's Mars rover Spirit is scheduled to land in a strange crater that might be an ancient martian lake bed.
December 30, 2003: On January 3, Spirit, NASAs 400-pound rover, is scheduled to land on what may be a dried-up lake bed on Mars. Theres not much doubt: this site contained a body of liquid water, at least for some amount of time, says Jim Garvin, NASAs Lead Scientist for Mars Exploration.
The site is Gusev Crater, a 90-mile wide hole in the ground that probably formed three to four billion years ago when an asteroid crashed just south of Mars equator. Theres a channel system that drains into it, which probably carried liquid water, or water and ice, into the crater. Its hard to imagine the landscape looking this way unless water was somehow involved, says Garvin.
Right now, inside the crater, researchers expect to find sediments, which may be nearly 3,000 feet thick. These sediments, which, researchers hope were deposited by water, may have been covered by dust and sand thats blown into the crater over the past two billion years.
But if there was once water in Gusev, its signature should still be there.
Water, of course, is important because it could signal an environment once-friendly to life. The landscape seen from orbit is very persuasive. But researchers cant be certain that Gusev contained liquid water until they examine the site up close.
The Gusev landscape we see today could have been modified by lava, ice, and winds, notes Garvin. Aspects of it could have been formed by standing water, or by intermittent floods. Spirit carries a suite of tools that will find out.
The rover will be able to grind away the surface cover on rocks and analyze minerals inside. It will be able to view its surroundings with unprecedented detail and precision. It can scoot over to the most interesting rocks it finds in order to examine them more closely.
With these tools and others, Spirit will work to find out what really happened.
One clear sign of past water will be in the rocks.
For example, if indeed Gusev once held a giant lake ( more than 10 times the size of the famous Crater Lake here in the US) certain key minerals are likely to be found in its rocks. Spirit might find evaporites -- minerals formed as water dries up. Salt or gysum are familiar ones here on Earth. Salts component parts -- sodium and chloride -- are separated, dissolved in sea water, but as the water dries up, the sodium and chloride join together to form the mineral halite, for example.
On Mars, Spirit might find evaporites like gypsum, or calcium magnesian sulfate. It might also find minerals involving carbonates (i.e., calcium carbonate). These are sometimes, although not always, produced by or from living organisms. But they are almost always a sign of water--at least here on Earth, notes Garvin.
Another sign will be in the way the sediments are organized. For example, if the sediments were blown in by winds, the layers may be more erratic, to reflect the changing directions of airflow (as in fossil dunes here on Earth). If they were deposited by water, they are more likely to be layered evenly, one on top of the other in rhythmic stacks.
The most exciting result, says Garvin, would be proving that liquid water existed at the surface of this site for a long time. Persistent standing bodies of water are possible habitats for life, he explains.
But whatever information Gusev yields will be important. Water or not. Life or not. Whatever it tells us will help determine the course of future explorations on Mars.
|Mars Orbiter Fails for Eighth Time to Contact Probe, but Scientists
Not Giving Up Hope
The Associated Press
LONDON Dec. 31, 2003 NASA's Mars Odyssey orbiter failed for an eighth time to contact the Beagle 2 probe Wednesday, but scientists say they have not given up hope of hearing from the lander, which was to have touched down on Mars almost a week ago.
Mission controllers sent Beagle a message Wednesday designed to reset its internal clock. Scientists have said a problem with the clock's software, confusing the timing of its planned transmissions, could be behind its silence. They said it was too early to tell whether the reset command had worked.
While mission scientists hope a technical glitch is the problem, they acknowledge that Beagle may have tumbled down a crater on the rocky Martian surface.
Neither Mars Odyssey nor powerful British and American radio telescopes have been able to pick up a signal from Beagle, which was supposed to land Christmas Day after separating from the European Space Agency's Mars Express orbiter.
Scientists will now have to wait until at least Jan. 4, when Mars Express enters an appropriate orbit to hear from the lander.
Mission controllers won't say how long they will keep up hopes of finding Beagle, but say Mars Express has a much better chance of picking up its signal than does Odyssey: The two crafts' radios have been tested together and shown to link up unlike those of Beagle and Mars Odyssey.
Scientists also said Wednesday that if the lander remained intact, it should now switch to an emergency communication mode in which it attempts to contact an orbiter more frequently.
On Tuesday, Mars Express blasted into a new path around Mars, clearing the way for the orbiter to probe deep beneath the planet's surface with its powerful radar. The craft's engine will be fired again Sunday to slow it down and put it into a lower orbit over the planet's poles, positioning it to contact Beagle.
Mars Express went into orbit around Mars early last Thursday about the same time the British-built Beagle was supposed to land north of the Martian equator, its impact softened by gas bags and parachutes.
The European Mars mission, which blasted off from Kazakhstan in June, is designed to search for signs of past or present life on the planet. Mars Express will orbit the planet for at least one Martian year almost two Earth years using its radar to search for signs of water or ice which may once have sustained living organisms.
The 143-pound Beagle, if it reached the surface intact, is to sample soil and rocks with a mechanical arm searching for indications of organic matter.
|Space Weather News for January 4, 2004
MARS: Tonight is a good night to look at Mars. NASA's six-wheeled rover Spirit landed there less than 24 hours ago, in a place called Gusev Crater. Spirit is beaming some wonderful images to Earth--you've probably seen them on TV or on the web. But are you ready for a break from screens? Tonight you can step outside and see Mars with your own eyes. Visit Spaceweather.com for directions and a sky map.
EARTH AT PERIHELION: Earth's orbit around the sun isn't a perfect circle, it's an ellipse. One side is closer to the sun (147.5 million km) than the other (152.6 million km). Today, January 4th, we're at the closest point, known to astronomers as perihelion. The sun looks a bit bigger than average and sunlight falling on Earth is a few percent more intense.
|NASA Scientists Gearing Up for Spirit Landing on Mars
02 Jan 2004, 23:21 UTC
The U.S. space agency, NASA, says its Spirit spacecraft is on track for a landing on Mars on Saturday at 11:35 p.m. The goal of the mission is to seek water.
Spirit has been on its way to Mars since June accompanied by a twin spacecraft named Opportunity.
If Spirit's fiery descent through Mars' atmosphere goes perfectly, it will deploy a six-wheeled rover that will prospect for minerals searching for evidence of past water.
Opportunity is to repeat the sequence three weeks later on the other side of the red planet.
Mission scientist Steve Squyres of Cornell University said any water evidence found will be used to guide future landers on a search for microbes.
"This is not a fossil hunt. What we're really doing is trying to find the places where evidence of life might be preserved so that when we can send much more sophisticated vehicles to return samples, we have the maximum chance of finding what we might be after," he explained.
NASA's last effort to land on Mars failed in 1999, and a British attempt last week to study Martian soil is in limbo because no signal has been received from its Beagle lander.
|U.S. Rover Beams More Photos After Mars Landing
Sun 4 January, 2004 23:13
By Steve Gorman
PASADENA, Calif. (Reuters) - Hours after a bouncy but "picture-perfect" landing, the robot explorer Spirit awoke to its first martian dawn on Sunday, ready to beam more photos from the red planet back to Earth as scientists prepared the rover to search for ancient signs of life-sustaining water.
The craft landed Saturday night -- mid-afternoon Mars time -- almost exactly on target, at Gusev Crater, a massive basin the size of Connecticut that scientists believe may be the site of dry lake bed once fed by a long, deep martian river.
Besides being an ideal place to search for evidence of water, and possibly life, the landing zone is an area free of large boulders and thick accumulations of dust, making it easier to maneuver the rover.
"We're in a marvelous place," Steven Squyres, NASA's elated but weary chief mission investigator, told reporters during a morning news conference. "We hit the sweet spot."
Mission controllers at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory said Spirit appeared to have come through its rough-and-tumble descent and touchdown in good working order, exceeding expectations with an early burst of more than 60 images from its barren, rock-strewn landing zone.
"This has been a picture-perfect landing," Mars exploration program manager Firouz Naderi said. "Against all odds, the spacecraft is in phenomenal shape."
The first set of black-and-white photos were snapped by Spirit before darkness fell on the frigid martian surface and were relayed to Earth by the passing Odyssey orbiter.
Spirit settled into a "sleep" mode with the martian sunset, but sprang to life briefly overnight to transmit additional pictures and other data during two more satellite passes, one by the Mars Global Surveyor and another by Odyssey.
'GOOD MORNING' ON MARS
At about 2:42 p.m. PST (5:42 p.m. EST/2242 GMT), a short time after sunrise on Mars, lab managers reactivated the rover, playing the Beatles song "Good Morning, Good Morning" in the control room to mark the occasion.
Scientist said their principal task during Spirit's first full day on Mars will be to extend the craft's main antenna and point it toward Earth to establish a direct communications link with the robotic probe.
They also expect the rover to begin taking higher-resolution color photos that will be sent to Earth as early as Sunday night, providing panoramas of the martian surface in unprecedented detail and depth of field.
For now, the six-wheeled rover will remain folded up on its landing pad while mission controllers continue to run checks on its various systems and instruments. In the next day or two, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory team will lift the rover up off its belly and extend its front wheels, mission manager Jennifer Trosper said.
Scientists said it would be eight or nine days before the rover is ready to roll off on its three-month mobile mission.
One early concern abated as closer examination of what had initially appeared to be a large rock standing in the rover's path revealed the object was probably just part of a partially inflated air bag from the craft's landing.
FOURTH SUCCESSFUL PROBE
Spirit is the fourth probe ever to successfully land on Mars, following in the footsteps of two Viking landers in the 1970s and the Pathfinder mission in 1997. Spirit's twin explorer, the rover Opportunity, is due to land on the opposite side of the planet on Jan. 25.
Spirit's triumphant arrival Saturday night, confirmed by a radio signal at 8:52 p.m. PST (11:52 p.m. EST/0452 GMT), came after it plunged through the thin martian atmosphere tethered to a parachute, then bounced to the surface cushioned in a cluster of air bags. The landing climaxed a seven-month journey to the fourth planet from the sun -- the second closest to Earth after Venus.
Mars has proven a perilous destination. NASA said more than half of man's missions to the red planet have ended in failure. Mars claimed two NASA spacecraft in 1998 and 1999.
NASA Administrator Sean O'Keefe called the $820 million mission a "double-header" following the successful Stardust mission on Friday that intercepted a comet and gathered particles from its tail in a first that could offer clues about how Earth began.
|Attempts to Contact Beagle 2 Fail Again
Britain Scientists' Attempts to Contact Missing Mars Probe Beagle 2 Fail Again
The Associated Press
LONDON Jan. 9, 2004 Two more attempts to contact the missing Mars probe Beagle 2 have failed, British scientists said Friday.
The British craft's mothership, Mars Express, flew over Beagle's intended martian landing site Thursday and Friday but heard no signal, the scientists said.
Mars Express was in its most sensitive "listening-only" mode during Thursday's flyby.
The European Space Agency's hopes of finding the lander are fading rapidly, but other efforts were scheduled for Saturday and Monday. This was the agency's first mission to Mars.
The Beagle 2 has not been heard from since the Mars Express set it loose toward the Red Planet last month. It was equipped with a mechanical arm to sample martian soil and rocks.
Unsuccessful efforts to contact the 143-pound probe also have been made by NASA's Mars Odyssey orbiter and British and U.S. radio telescopes.
Mars Express will orbit the planet for at least one Martian year almost two Earth years using its radar to search for signs of water or ice which may once have sustained living organisms.
|Spirit Stands Up, Ready To Roll
Jan 10, 2004 5:04 pm US/Central
PASADENA, Calif. (CBS) NASA's Spirit rover has fully unfolded itself and stretched up to its full 4-foot, 9-inch height, making it ready to drive off the lander that delivered it to Mars, the space agency said Saturday.
"After seven months of our rover being folded up in a small lander, today is the day the Spirit rover finished its final unfolding on the surface of Mars," said mission manager Jennifer Trosper said during a news conference at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
"So it now stands full height and all six wheels are in the final position and ready drive onto the surface. So it's a very big day for the Spirit rover."
According to CBS News Space Consultant William Harwood, Spirit should be ready to roll off its lander and onto the Martian surface by early Wednesday morning East Coast time to begin its long-awaited exploration of Gusev Crater.
On any other day, Harwood points out, that would be a major milestone. But Wednesday is also the day President Bush is expected to announce a new space initiative that would end shuttle operations by 2010 and send astronauts to the moon by the middle of the next decade. The ultimate goal is to expand humanity's exploration of the solar system to Mars.
But for the Spirit team, Harwood says, the rover's short drive off its lander is the central focus and Saturday's completion of the four-part stand-up sequence was a major milestone in its own right.
The unfolding was one of the most complex deployments ever performed by a robotic spacecraft, mechanical systems engineer Chris Voorhees said. NASA had to fold up the rover to make it fit inside the lander, which opened up like a four-petal flower.
When Spirit does leave the lander, it will take a different route than scientists had hoped. Air bags used to cushion the rover's landing are now blocking the ramp NASA had planned to use. Instead, Spirit will turn 120 degrees to its right and take a second, more risky ramp to the ground, mission manager Matt Wallace said.
Even though it remains on its lander, 16 inches above the Martian surface, Spirit already has found traces of minerals that could have formed in what might have been an ancient lake at the landing site.
That geologic observation could support theories that liquid water persisted on the surface of the planet during Mars' ancient past and provided an environment conducive to life.
However, scientists stressed that finding the minerals, called carbonates, does not immediately prove the lake theory. The carbonate dust also could have formed by reactions with the tiny amounts of water vapor found in the Martian atmosphere.
"We've got a bunch of ideas and we don't know which one is right yet," said Steven Squyres of Cornell University, the mission's main scientist. A previous NASA spacecraft detected carbonates from orbit.
Spirit also was measuring the temperature and makeup of the rocks and soil around it with its thermal emission spectrometer.
The instrument sees infrared radiation heat emitted by objects, including rocks and soil. Variations in the radiation indicate differences in mineralogical composition. That's crucial information for scientists eager to learn what sort of rocks lie strewn around Spirit and which of them are most worth analyzing.
Photographs taken by Spirit of its surroundings have also been trickling in, deputy project scientist Albert Haldemann said.
The $820 million Mars Exploration Rover project includes a second, identical rover, named Opportunity, which is scheduled to land on Jan. 24.
NASA sent the two robotic geologists to prospect for evidence that Mars may once have been a wet world conducive to life.
(© 2004 CBS Worldwide Inc. All Rights Reserved.
NASA's Mars rover Spirit has rolled off its lander and onto Martian soil for the first time.
January 15, 2004: NASA's Mars Exploration Rover Spirit successfully drove off its lander platform and onto the soil of Mars early today. The robot's first picture looking back at the now-empty lander and showing wheel tracks in the soil set off cheers from the robot's flight team at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL).
In the control room, engineers played Baha Men's "Who Let the Dogs Out" as they watched new images confirming that Spirit had successfully exited its lander platform.
"Spirit is now ready to start its mission of exploration and discovery. We have six wheels in the dirt," said JPL Director Charles Elachi later.
Since Spirit landed inside Mars' Gusev Crater on Jan. 3 (PST and EST; Jan. 4 Universal Time), JPL engineers have put it through a careful sequence of unfolding, standing up, checking its surroundings and other steps leading up to today's drive-off.
The command to roll off the lander was sent to Spirit at 12:21 a.m. PST today. Twenty minutes later Spirit had moved onto the martian soil. The drive moved Spirit 3 meters (10 feet) in 78 seconds, ending with the back of the rover about 80 centimeters (2.6 feet) away from the foot of the egress ramp, said JPL's Joel Krajewski, leader of the team that developed the sequence of events from landing to drive-off.
"There was a great sigh of relief from me," said JPL's Kevin Burke, lead mechanical engineer for the drive-off. "We are now on the surface of Mars."
With the rover on the ground, an international team of scientists assembled at JPL will be making daily decisions about how to use the rover for examining rocks, soils and atmosphere with a suite of scientific instruments onboard.
"Now, we are the mission that we all envisioned three-and-a-half years ago, and that's tremendously exciting," said JPL's Jennifer Trosper, mission manager.
Spirit was launched from Cape Canaveral on June 10, 2003. Now that it is on Mars, its task is to spend the rest of its mission exploring for clues in rocks and soil about whether Gusev Crater was ever watery and suitable for life.
Spirit's twin Mars Exploration Rover, Opportunity, will reach Mars on Jan. 25 (EST and Universal Time; 9:05 p.m., Jan. 24, PST) to begin a similar examination of a site on the opposite side of the planet.
|NASA Unable to Communicate with Mars Rover
By Jill Serjeant
PASADENA, Calif. (Reuters) - NASA scientists said on Thursday they had lost contact with the robot rover Spirit on Mars and were unsure what had caused the problem.
Spirit project manager Pete Theisinger told a news briefing that there was a "very serious anomaly" in communications with the six-wheeled craft, which landed on Mars on Jan. 3 on a planned three-month mission to explore the geologic history of the planet.
Theisinger said scientists had been unable to communicate with Spirit for about 24 hours and had so far been unable to explain the source of the problem.
"There is not one single fault that explains this," Theisinger said, adding that mission scientists had worked throughout the night on scenarios ranging from a major power failure to a software or memory corruption.
Mission managers said Spirit was not completely dead, and had sent out a communication beep and default signals. But they said several attempts since Wednesday afternoon to send commands to the rover and to receive data from it via the Mars Global Surveyor orbiter and the Mars Odyssey orbiter had failed.
The grim news dampened the elated atmosphere at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California, where mission controllers have delighted up until now at the virtually flawless landing on Mars.
Spirit last week began its first tentative journeys sampling the surface soil of the Gusev Crater -- a barren, wind-swept basin that scientists believe may have been the site of an ancient lake bed once fed by a Martian river.
The first hitch in the mission came on Wednesday when a thunderstorm in Canberra, Australia, prevented mission controllers from transmitting command sequences from the Canberra large dish antenna complex to Spirit on its 18th day on the red planet.
Project managers initially seemed unconcerned at the setback but are now examining whether the communications glitch may have contributed to the more serious problems with Spirit.
Mission managers said on Thursday that the Spirit communications problems would have no effect on the scheduled arrival on Saturday on the opposite side of Mars of Spirit's twin exploration rover, Opportunity.
The two robotic rovers are the most advanced missions to date in man's 40-year quest to discover the geologic history of Mars and whether it was ever sufficiently warm or wet enough to sustain a recognizable form of life.
|Mars Rover Resumes Sending Data Back to Earth
Fri 23 January, 2004 15:51
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - The Mars rover Spirit resumed sending data to Earth on Friday after the robot suffered from garbled communications and periods of intermittent silence, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory said on Friday.
JPL, which manages the Mars project for NASA, said in a statement on its Web site that the flight team received data from Spirit starting at 8:26 a.m. EST and continuing for 20 minutes.
"The spacecraft sent limited data in a proper response to a ground command, and we're planning for commanding further communication sessions later today," Mars Exploration Rover Project Manager Pete Theisinger said.
The six-wheeled craft landed on the red planet on Jan. 3 for a planned three-month mission. Officials had described the loss of communications as a "very serious anomaly."
The scientists reported on Thursday Spirit had radioed a signal indicating it was receiving Earth transmissions even though it had not resumed sending data back to Earth.
Spirit had been unable to return any science or telemetry data since early Wednesday.
Spirit landed on Mars on Jan. 3 on a planned three-month mission to explore the geologic history of the planet.
|NASA Gets New Signals From Mars Rover
NASA Gets Signals From Mars Rover; Scientists Plan for More to Diagnose, Fix Robotic Patient
The Associated Press
PASADENA, Calif. Jan. 23 NASA engineers received a half-hour of total transmissions Friday morning from the Spirit rover and planned further communications with it in an effort to diagnose and possibly patch up their ailing robotic patient on Mars.
NASA heard from the six-wheeled rover for 10 minutes at about 4:30 a.m. and received data for 20 minutes about an hour later.
"The spacecraft sent limited data in a proper response to a ground command, and we're planning for commanding further communication sessions later today," Pete Theisinger, rover project manager at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, said in a statement early Friday.
Officials did not immediately elaborate on the signals. If they contain significant data, the transmissions would mark the first such signals in two days a period of anxious waiting for scientists after normal communications halted Wednesday.
Engineers hope Spirit will manage to send some engineering data, which can be used to assess the health of the spacecraft, pinpoint any problems and allow NASA to begin working on a potential fix or fixes.
|A Second Mars Rover Lands as NASA Tries to Repair the First
By KENNETH CHANG
Published: January 25, 2004
PASADENA, Calif., Jan. 24 In a night of unmitigated success, NASA landed a second rover on Mars late Saturday, and within hours, the rover, Opportunity, sent back stunning photographs of an alien landscape unlike any other, on Earth or on Mars.
And earlier in the day, mission managers reported significant progress in fixing the first rover, Spirit, which has been malfunctioning since Wednesday.
With each new image from Opportunity beamed back to Earth came more oohs and aahs. Dr. Steve Squyres, the principal scientist, said, "I will attempt no science analysis, because it looks like nothing Ive ever seen before. Ive got no words for this."
Another new, indescribable vista brought more amazement. "Holy smokes," Dr. Squyres said. "Im just blown away by this."
The grayish brown soils seem to have a pebbly texture, but in areas scraped by the air bags that cushioned the rovers landing, the surface is a vivid reddish color and smooth, almost like talcum powder. In one place, Dr. Squyres spotted the impression of a seam of one of the air bags.
The photographs also show ripples, perhaps windblown, and not far in the distance, some large rock slabs jut out the first exposed bedrock seen on Mars. From the images, Dr. Squyres guessed that Opportunity might have ended up in a shallow crater.
"I am flabbergasted," Dr. Sqyres said. "I am astonished. I am blown away. Opportunity has touched down in a bizarre alien landscape."
Dr. Larry Soderblum of the U.S. Geological Survey, one of the project scientists called the site "Martian paydirt."
Peter Theisinger, the project manager for the rovers, summed up the long night simply: "We done good."
For 2004, NASA is now two for two in putting six-wheeled rovers on Mars.
About 9:05 p.m. Pacific time on Saturday (12:05 a.m. Eastern time on Sunday), the rover Opportunity, encased in air bags, bounced onto the Martian surface. The rover continued to send radio signals to Earth as it bounced and rolled along the planet's surface for several minutes before coming to a stop.
"We're on Mars, everybody," said Rob Manning, manager for entry, descent and landing, as people in the control room cheered and clapped. The rover beeped that it was in working condition.
Over the next couple of hours, the spacecraft deflated and stowed the air bags and unfolded the petals around the rover into a platform. When the Mars Odyssey spacecraft orbited overhead at 1 a.m. Sunday, Opportunity sent back the first set of photographs that awed the scientists.
As Opportunity sped toward its landing, mission managers said Saturday afternoon that they had homed in on the problems that had waylaid its twin, Spirit, which landed three weeks earlier on the opposite side of Mars, and that they were hopeful they would be able to repair it.
The $820 million mission is searching for vestiges of a watery past on Mars.
Initial estimates put Opportunity about 15 miles east of the spot controllers were aiming at, well within the expectations.
Opportunity's landing site is in a region known as Meridiani Planum, which contains a deposit of iron oxide the size of Oklahoma. What particularly interests scientists is that this type of iron oxide, gray hematite, usually forms in the presence of water, at least on Earth.
The shift east actually puts the rover in an area of higher hematite concentrations.
Only a couple of days ago, the malfunctioning of Spirit cast a worrisome mood over NASAs Jet Propulsion Laboratory, which is managing the rover missions.
Dr. Edward J. Weiler, the associate administrator for space science at NASA headquarters, said that when arrived at J.P.L. on Thursday, a day after Spirit began malfunctioning, the mood was glum. "I came here prepared for a funeral basically," he said. "In the last 48 hours, weve been on a rollercoaster. We resurrected one rover and saw the birth of another today."
The post-landing news conference resembled, in part, a locker room celebration for a Super Bowl winner and, in part, the Academy Awards. Members of the landing team whooped, cheered and exchanged high-fives. Richard Cook, the deputy project manager, thanked everyone, from the landing team members to Lockheed Martin, which built the Mars Odyssey Orbiter that is relaying some of the information from the rovers, to the friends and family of everyone involved. "Anybody I left out, I apologize," he said.
At an earlier news conference on Saturday, mission managers expressed confidence on Saturday that Spirit would be able to resume its mission of Gusev Crater, which looks like it may have once been a lake bed.
The computer on Spirit started crashing on Wednesday, and the problem has been traced to part of the computer memory, said Mr. Theisinger, the project manager. It will still take some time for the problem to be fully diagnosed and for the engineers to devise procedures to work around it.
"I think we're probably like three weeks away from driving," Mr. Theisinger said.
That would be about a quarter of the three months originally allocated to Spirit's mission, but "our analysis shows we're probably going to last a lot longer than three months," Dr. Weiler said. "We've got reserve on the end to do the real exploring."
The troubles began Wednesday, as controllers were testing one of the instruments. Spirit's computer crashed, and over the next two days, a cycle of rebooting and crashing repeated more than 60 times. The rover also did not shut down at night.
The rover uses random access memory, or RAM, which loses data when power is lost, as well as flash memory, which retains data without power. RAM is the type of memory used in personal computers, and flash memory is what is used to store photographs in digital cameras.
Suspecting that the problem might be with the flash memory, flight controllers radioed instructions for Spirit to start up in what Mr. Theisinger called the cripple mode, using only the RAM and not the flash memory. For the first time since Wednesday, the rover's software did not crash.
After nearly an hour talking with the rover, controllers sent a command to the rover to shut down to allow it to recharge its batteries. Unlike the day before, the rover did not answer back, leading researchers to believe the vehicle was sleeping, Mr. Theisinger said.
|Last chance for Beagle 2
By SUN ONLINE REPORTER
BOFFINS plan to reboot Beagle 2s computer in a "last throw of the dice" bid to make contact with the lost Mars probe.
As a desperate last resort, an attempt will be made to reboot the craft with a command signal transmitted by the American Mars Odyssey orbiter.
But Beagle 2s chief scientist Professor Colin Pillinger admitted that it was a very long shot.
New attempts to contact the lander by its Mars Express mother ship failed again over the weekend.
Mars Express made two passes of the probes landing site but heard nothing.
Earlier, scientists imposed a radio silence to try to force Beagle 2 into an emergency communication mode which would keep its transmitter on most of the time.
Announcing the result of the search today, Prof Pillinger said: "I dont intend to beat about the bush, but simply tell you right from the start that we havent found Beagle 2 despite three days of intensive searching covering all the angles that we could view the Martian surface, from orbiting round Mars using Mars Express and Odyssey, and all the time that we could believe that Beagle might have been broadcasting from Mars, using the Jodrell Bank telescope.
"None of these techniques actually delivered anything that we could interpret as a signal.
"Under those circumstances I think we have to begin to accept that Beagle 2, if it is on the Martian surface, is not active."
Scientists are now sifting through all the Beagle 2 data obtained since the missions launch seven months ago in the hope of finding out what went wrong.
The landing site at Isidis Planitia, a low, flat basin that was supposed to be relatively risk-free, is also being reassessed.
Two long lists are being drawn up, one showing what might have gone wrong and the other what could be done differently on a future mission.
Prof Pillinger said: "I think we have to look at the future. Lets not grieve.
"Its back to the bottom of the hill and pushing up the boulder again."
NASA declares Mars Spirit rover 'healed' after memory repairs
ANDREW BRIDGES, AP Science Writer
Friday, February 6, 2004
PASADENA, Calif. (AP) --
NASA's Spirit rover was declared cured Friday after repair of a problem with its computer's flash memory system that stalled the wheeled robot for two weeks and threatened its mission to search for geologic evidence that Mars was once wetter and hospitable to life.
"I think I can say this morning with as much certainty as we can say anything here that our patient is healed," Spirit mission manager Jennifer Trosper told a Jet Propulsion Laboratory news conference.
The rover, which was described as being in critical condition when it abruptly stopped sending science data to Earth, this week underwent a delicate process of deleting files and reformatting the flash memory. The craft was able to resume science work on Thursday.
Trosper said the long-distance repair job was nerve-racking "but in the end the spacecraft did exactly what we wanted it to do, and it performed perfectly and it's in great health right now."
The problem was simply accumulation of computer files that kept consuming the spacecraft's memory "and eventually we ran out," said Glenn Reeves, the flight software architect.
The computer software detected the consumption of the memory as "a very severe error" and behaved properly in trying to solve the problem by resetting itself, but instead that triggered a cascade of resets. Each time the system came back up it would detect the same severe error and reset.
Spirit and its twin, Opportunity, which is on the other side of the planet, are now being monitored to prevent accumulation of files in their memories.
Opportunity, was continuing to work well, scientists said.
NASA on Thursday sent Opportunity on a roll across a pebbly patch of Mars, moving the rover closer to a rock outcrop that scientists want it to spend several days studying in detail.
The 11-foot drive put the wheeled rover within striking distance of the rocky portion of the rim of the 72-foot wide crater in which it landed late last month. The move was Opportunity's first since it rolled off its lander Saturday.
Opportunity needed to roll at least five more feet to put the slabs of bedrock within reach of its robotic arm, and a final "scoot" might be necessary to move the rover even closer, said scientist Larry Soderblom, of the U.S. Geological Survey.
Scientists skipped plans for the rover to dig into and analyze the martian soil on the way, opting instead to reach as quickly as possible a feature on the outcrop they have nicknamed "Snout."
"Once we get there, we are going to do some pretty heavy remote sensing. It will be our first really good look at the outcrop," said the mission's main scientist, Cornell University astronomer Steve Squyres.
Opportunity's keen-eyed cameras have already revealed fine-scaled layering in the rock formation, which could have been laid down in water. Its instruments should shed further light on the origin of the layers. NASA sent Opportunity and its twin, Spirit, on the $820 million mission to find geologic evidence of past water activity on Mars.
Spirit could begin rolling again by the weekend, moving toward a crater 800 feet away that could take a month to reach.
Scientists planned for Opportunity to spend several days at "Snout" and several more cruising alongside the band of rocks, Soderblom said.
Then Opportunity may turn its attention to the martian soil, spinning one of its front wheels to dig into a spot rich in the iron-bearing mineral hematite. Opportunity previously looked at a patch of soil elsewhere in its crater that contained very little of the iron oxide, which typically forms in liquid water.
Once done, Opportunity may turn back to the outcrop and re-examine select spots in further detail, Soderblom said.
"This is a very dynamic process," Squyres said.
NASA also has pinpointed where Opportunity landed late last month, Theisinger said. The rover sits inside a shallow depression about 2,300 feet west of a larger crater, he said.
Have the Mars rovers struck water?
Clumpy, sticky soil hints at a bit of brine, scientists say
By Robert Roy Britt
Senior Science Writer
Feb. 19 - NASA's Opportunity rover sent back new images from Mars showing that small spheres previously found on the surface also exist below, in a trench the rover dug. Hints of salty water were also found in the trench, but much more analysis is needed to learn the true composition.
Mission team members said at a press conference Thursday that the soil at both locations could contain small amounts of water mixed with salt in a brine that can exist in liquid form at very low temperatures.
The scientists stressed that only minuscule amounts of water would be needed to create the brine.
Water is the main thing scientists are searching for at Mars, because all life as we know it requires liquid water.
Rovers working 'spectacularly'
Mission officials have long known that if all goes well, the rovers would indeed exceed the three-month life span that was considered a minimum design criteria. The robots face a host of threats, from frigid temperatures to high doses of radiation and wind-blown dust that can coat their solar panels, eliminating their source of power.
"These vehicles are holding up spectacularly," Squyres said at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. But he cautioned that "projections are very difficult to make." Still, he said all signs point to a lifetime "that could be considerably longer" than the original plan and that he hoped to be still doing rover science in the summer.
Unlike those on the surface, the spheres in the wall of the trench are "polished and shiny," said geochemist Albert Yen of NASAs Jet Propulsion Laboratory. No one knows why.
Yen said it's not surprising that the buried spheres are different from those at the surface, because they experience different conditions. Some coating could be responsible for the higher reflectivity of the long-buried spheres below. He said it was not due to just an effect of lighting.
In the broader sense, the spheres could have been formed in a volcano or by a meteor impact, or they might be the result of running water. Those are the three hypotheses researchers have been working with for several days now. Each is still a possibility.
The destination, called Bonneville Crater, was carved out long ago by a space rock impact. Computer models show that rocks would have been carved from the crater in a reverse manner, the lower stuff being tossed higher and farther from the crater. Des Marais described it as similar to a flower opening.
"A lot of the older, deeper material gets thrown out farther," he said.
Spirit is starting to see rocks that could be those older ones. Finding out for sure will take weeks, in a two-pronged effort. Spirit will catalog the compositions and colors of several rocks along the way. When the rover reaches the crater, scientists hope to see some exposed layers in the crater wall, then match their colors up with the tossed-out rocks.
"This is a bit of a wish," Des Marais said, "but I think it's a real possibility."
About that soil ...
Des Marais said the material could be stuck together by a process in which water and salt collect at the surface and form a cement. The salt is drawn upward in a continual process. Then the water evaporates, leaving the salt behind. If that is what's going on, then there should be more salt at the surface than below.
The trench is not expected to become a well, however.
"I wouldn't expect to see a pool of water," he said.
© 2004 Space.com. All rights reserved. More from Space.com.
Mars Critics Say Billions Are Ill-Spent
Sat Mar 6, 2004
By JOSEPH B. VERRENGIA, AP Science Writer
NASA celebration last week of gritty evidence that Mars once had enough water to support life has spawned more questions:
Where's the water now? When did it disappear? Are there any fossils of living creatures, or even microbes?
But prominent scientists outside the space agency are beginning to ask a harder question: Does Mars represent what is out of whack in American science and exploration?
"So what if there is water up there?" said George Washington University sociologist Amitai Etzioni, who served as a domestic affairs adviser in the Carter White House.
"What difference does it make to anyone's life?" he said. "Will it grow any more food? Cure a disease? This doesn't even broaden our horizons."
Even some physical scientists who understand the incremental nature of research are less than enthralled.
"It's all very exciting," deadpanned marine biologist Sylvia Earle, who holds the world's record for untethered undersea exploration the oceans' equivalent of spacewalking. "It confirms what many of us had suspected for a long time."
Mars enthusiasts say the discovery of water evidence in the rocks by NASA's two roving robots is important precisely because it confirms what researchers had been discussing for years. Science is strewn with plausible ideas that experimentation has disproved.
"In this case, there was no substitute for finding out directly," said Case Western Reserve University physicist Lawrence Krauss. "This shows that Earth is not a closed system, that there was water elsewhere.
"It is a precursor to potentially something far more exciting," he said. "If we discover a fossil? Boy, that will rank up there with the all-time greats."
Today's $820 million mission using the robotic rovers Opportunity and Spirit may be just the beginning of Mars spending, and that has scientists in all fields a little worried.
The Bush White House wants to return to the moon and eventually send astronauts to Mars, perhaps by 2035 an effort that would cost hundreds of billions of dollars.
Considering the projected $477 billion federal budget deficit and the competition for scarce taxpayer dollars, many scientists say it makes more sense to concentrate on pressing scientific issues that would improve life down here.
Both Etzioni and Earle, in separate interviews, suggested the world's oceans are the most obvious, and promising, scientific target.
Earth's oceans have been barely explored. New potential marine sources of energy and medicine, as well as knowledge about climate and origins of life on Earth 4 billion years ago remain largely unexamined.
Ocean research is divided among several agencies and laboratories. Its primary agency, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration receives about $3.2 billion annually, as compared with NASA's $15.5 billion. In his 2005 budget, the president wants to cut 8.4 percent from NOAA's budget while boosting NASA's by 5.6 percent.
The annual budget of the National Institutes of Health the government's premier biomedical research arm has been doubled over the past several years to about $27 billion. But that money is spread among 27 divisions, from cancer to Alzheimer's to drug addiction.
To some degree, Mars has divided space scientists, too. Astronomers bemoan NASA's decision to stop servicing the Hubble Space Telescope and let it die years ahead of schedule as the agency refocuses from stars to planets.
And Earle, the ocean explorer-in-residence at the National Geographic Society says, "I don't want to cut a penny from space.
"But the resources going into the investigation of our own planet and its oceans are trivial compared to investment looking for water elsewhere in the universe."
For decades the question of whether our nearest and most similar neighbor once supported life has been the subject of intense interest.
That Mars is so unforgiving more than half of the 36 previous missions have ended in disaster, including a European one last December serves only to make it a more tantalizing target.
Space enthusiasts don't claim the current twin rover mission to be a historic turning point on par with the conquistadors' arrival in the New World, or Darwin's voyage to collect specimens for his theories of evolution.
Nor does it compare to Neil Armstrong's giant leap for mankind on the surface of the moon.
Today, scientific exploration is performed incrementally because of the enormous distances and technological complexities involved.
That's one reason NASA attaches importance to what Opportunity and Spirit have found, Opportunity in an outcropping nicknamed "El Capitan" at its landing site in Mars' Meridiani Planum region and Spirit at its study area in the Gusev Crater, halfway around the planet.
Previously, the assumption that Mars was wet was based on circumstantial evidence, such as satellite imagery of what appeared to be canyons and surface channels carved by water now missing.
The rovers landed in January specifically to check its rocks for evidence that they were formed in a persistently wet environment.
Mission accomplished, said James Garvin, NASA's lead scientist for Mars and lunar exploration.
In a finely layered rock, Opportunity detected concentrations of jarosite, an iron sulfate mineral that forms with water, as well as layers of salts that match evaporation sequences found on Earth when briny water pools dry up.
Visual examination also showed several features of rocks formed in watery environments, including signs of dissolved salt crystals, BB-sized spheres of minerals and crossbed patterns of rock layers.
Spirit found evidence that waterborne minerals were deposited inside cracks in a volcanic rock dubbed "Humphrey." However, the amount of water suggested by the data is far less than what Opportunity found.
"This really is the smoking gun of a watery past for Mars," said David Grinspoon, principal scientist at the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colo., and author of "Lonely Planets." "We're not just chasing ghosts."
Not that future exploration necessarily will be accomplished by humans. Some NASA critics, like Colorado astrophysicist Robert Zubrin, strenuously argue that humans should go to Mars soon traveling light and making their fuel from rocks on the Martian surface for the trip home.
But the current thinking is that robots and computers can do a cheaper, safer job in a hostile environment. The very thin Martian atmosphere contains almost no oxygen and it exerts only a trace of the pressure that helps make Earth habitable.
"We're in a new phase and one we had better get used to, Krauss said. "The more adventurous we get, the more we have to count on robots."
The value of robotic exploration is one area in which Mars supporters and critics like Etzioni and Earle can agree up to a point.
After all, submersibles have been trolling the oceans for decades. Earle argues that remote marine studies have found that life our lives, really is not guaranteed as the oceans decline.
Most of the seas' big fish tuna, sharks and swordfish have been depleted. Half of the coral reefs are dead or dying. Around the world, runoff pollution has created more than 50 "dead zones" in coastal waters.
Sea levels are rising, and the oceans' role in the planet's changing climate is poorly known.
Real oceans need scientific attention more than the dried-up remnants on Mars, Earle contends.
"Every time I jump into the ocean I see things I've never seen before," she said. "We have better maps of Mars than our own ocean floor. That's just not right."
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NEWS RELEASE: 2004-083 March 11, 2004
Spirit Looks Down Into Crater After Reaching Rim
NASA's Spirit has begun looking down into a crater it has been approaching for several weeks, providing a view of what's below the surrounding surface. Spirit has also been looking up, seeing stars and the first observation of Earth from the surface of another planet. Its twin, Opportunity, has shown scientists a "mother lode" of hematite now considered a target for close-up investigation. "It's been an extremely exciting and productive week for both of the rovers," said Spirit Mission Manager Jennifer Trosper at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif. Dr. Chris Leger, a rover driver at JPL, said, "The terrain has been getting trickier and trickier as we've gotten close to the crater.
The slopes have been getting steeper and we have more rocks." Spirit has now traveled a total of 335 meters (1,099 feet). Spirit's new position on the rim of the crater nicknamed "Bonneville" offers a vista in all directions, including the crater interior. The distance to the opposite rim is about the length of two football fields, nearly 10 times the diameter of Opportunity's landing-site crater halfway around the planet from Spirit. Initial images from Spirit's navigation camera do not reveal any obvious layers in "Bonneville's" inner wall, but they do show tantalizing clues of rock features high on the far side, science-team member Dr. Matt Golombek of JPL said at a news briefing today. "This place where we've just arrived has opened up, and it's going to take us a few days to get our arms around it."
Scientists anticipate soon learning more about the crater from Spirit's higher-resolution panoramic camera and the miniature thermal emission spectrometer, both of which can identify minerals from a distance. They will use that information for deciding whether to send Spirit down into the crater. From the crater rim and during martian nighttime earlier today, Spirit took pictures of stars, including a portion of the constellation Orion. Shortly before dawn four martian days earlier, it photographed Earth as a speck of light in the morning twilight. The tests of rover capabilities for astronomical observations will be used in planning possible studies of Mars' atmospheric characteristics at night. Those studies might include estimating the amounts of dust and ice particles in the atmosphere from their effects on starlight, said Dr. Mark Lemmon, a science team member
from Texas A&M University, College Station.
Opportunity has been looking up, too. It has photographed Mars' larger moon, Phobos, passing in front of the Sun twice in the past week, and Mars' smaller moon, Deimos, doing so once. Opportunity's miniature thermal emission spectrometer has taken upward-looking readings of the atmospheric temperature at the same time as a similar instrument, the thermal emission spectrometer on NASA's Mars Global Surveyor orbiter, took downward-pointed readings while passing overhead. "They were actually looking directly along the same path," said science team member Dr. Michael Wolff of the Martinez, Ga., branch of the Space Science Institute, Boulder, Colo. The combined readings give the first full temperature profile from the top of Mars' atmosphere to the surface."
When pointed at the ground, Opportunity's miniature thermal emission spectrometer has checked the abundance of hematite in all directions from the rover's location inside its landing-site crater. This mineral, in its coarse-grained form, usually forms in a wet environment. Detection of hematite from orbit was the prime factor in selection of the Meridiani Planum region for Opportunity's landing site.
"The plains outside our crater are covered with hematite," said Dr. Phil Christensen of Arizona State University, Tempe, lead scientist for the instrument. "The rock outcrop we've been studying has some hematite. Parts of the floor of the crater, interestingly enough, have virtually none." The pattern fits a theory that the crater was dug by an impact that punched through a hematite-rich surface layer, he said. One goal for Opportunity's future work is to learn more about that surface layer to get more clues about the wet past environment indicated by sulfate minerals identified last week in the crater's outcrop. Christensen said that before Opportunity drives out of the crater in about 10 days, scientists plan to investigate one area on the inner slope of the crater that he called "the mother lode of hematite."
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 at http://athena.cornell.edu .
|NASA settles in for long haul on twin rover mission to Mars
By ANDREW BRIDGES, AP Science Writer
Last Updated 2:05 p.m. PST Friday, March 26, 2004
PASADENA, Calif. (AP) - Scientists working on NASA's twin rover mission to Mars said Friday they are settling in for the long haul, as they ready to dispatch the six-wheeled robots on extended treks that could stretch into the late summer.
Beginning Monday, members working on the Spirit half of the $820 million double mission will leave Mars time behind and revert to more Earthlike schedules. Those assigned to the second rover, Opportunity, will switch back April 5.
Since days on Mars last nearly 40 minutes longer than they do on Earth, members of the mission have had to adjust their schedules accordingly to stay synchronized with the Red Planet. After nearly three months, fatigue is beginning to take its toll, mission members said.
"That will ease some of the pain on our hardworking team," Opportunity mission manager Matt Wallace told a Friday news conference at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
Both identical rovers are on the verge of embarking on extended drives at their respective landing sites on opposite sides of the planet.
The long drives should allow engineers to streamline their operations and compress the amount of time needed to prepare each rover for the tasks it is commanded to perform each day.
Within days, Spirit should strike out toward a set of hills that lie an estimated 1.4 miles east of the rim of a large crater it's spent two weeks exploring. The drive should take it anywhere from 60 to 90 days to complete, said deputy main scientist Ray Arvidson, of Washington University.
Scientists plan to stop at highlights along the way to the so-called Columbia Hills, which may preserve evidence of the lake believed to once fill the 90-mile diameter crater in which Spirit landed.
"It won't be a continuous drive - a bad road trip between stops. We'll actually get out and do some touristy things," said science team member Larry Crumpler, of the New Mexico Museum of Natural History.
Opportunity, too, soon should roll off toward a comparatively less distant target of its own to explore, this one a large crater that lies just 2,300 feet away.
Scientists believe that Endurance Crater could contain more of the sedimentary deposits that Opportunity spent nearly two months analyzing in Eagle Crater, the far smaller depression that the rover rolled into on landing. That analysis showed a rock outcrop rimming half the crater formed in standing water, in an environment that would have been suitable for life.
They now want to learn over how large an area that pooled water extended and whether it persisted over an extended time in the martian past. Finding tall stacks of similarly layered rocks at a second site, for example, would suggest a broad body of water covered the region, laying down layer after layer of rock over many years, Arvidson said.
The two rovers show virtually no signs of wear or tear, Wallace said.
Spirit is within nine days of completing its 90-day planned mission; Opportunity trails it by 20 days, Wallace said. Both rovers should more than double their expected lifetimes, officials have said.
On the Net: http://marsrovers.jpl.nasa.gov
Mars rover to be sent into gaping crater
30 Jun, 2007 l 0136 hrs ISTREUTERS
"After months of scoping out the terrain, the robotic geologist Opportunity is ready to drive down into Victoria Crater on the Meridiani Plains of Mars. Mission managers acknowledge the hardy rover may never come back out, but say they think the potential for discovery is worth it. 'The rover has operated more than 12 times longer than its originally intended 90 days. The scientific allure is the chance to examine and investigate the compositions and textures of exposed materials in the crater's depths for clues about ancient, wet environments. As the rover travels farther down the slope, it will be able to examine increasingly older rocks in the exposed walls of the crater. '"
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