Thursday, January 15, 2004

Ready, Set, Go
All systems were "go" on Wednesday for the U.S. robotic rover to take its first drive on the surface of Mars and conduct an experiment with a European space probe circling the planet, scientists at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory said.

The rover Spirit is set to roll off the lander at about midnight PST on Wednesday night (3 a.m. EST) in a 9.8 ft jaunt that should take 78 seconds.

When it reaches the ground, Spirit will pause to point its mini-thermal emission spectrometer (mini-TES) up at the sky at the same time the European orbiter Mars Express snaps the same type of images from about 186 miles overhead.

The simultaneous images of the martian atmosphere from opposite vantage points will provide scientists with data of unprecedented detail about the composition of the Martian atmosphere, deputy project scientist Albert Haldemann said.

"We're doing something else historic tonight. For the first time we're going to look up while someone else is looking down," Haldemann said. "That is of great value to us."

When Spirit leaves the lander, it will encounter a 3.9 inch drop at the end of the ramp to the planet's surface -- a distance that is well within the rover's capabilities, Kevin Burke, egress mechanical lead, said.

"We're sitting exactly where we want to be. We're ready to get on with things," Burke said.

The Spirit team "woke up" the rover at 8:45 a.m. Mars time (about 8 p.m. PST) for the past two days with theme songs aimed at positioning it for egress: "Turn, Turn, Turn" by The Birds, "You Spin Me Round," by Dead or Alive, and "Round and Round" by Ratt, Trosper said.

Onboard cameras showed that Spirit successfully completed a 115-degree rotation atop the lander and is poised to drive down a rear ramp toward a crater 820 ft to the northeast.

The rover first will stop in place for two to three days to test soil and rocks at its egress point and to do "clean-up" operations associated with the shift to a mobile science mission, Trosper said.
Somehow, after traveling around 64 million miles, bouncing and rolling to a landing with nothing but a bunch of airbags to absorb the impact, a 3.9-inch drop and 115-degree rotation seem, I don’t know, anticlimactic.


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