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Missions to Mars
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Mars Exploration Rovers Mission to Mars

Mission Type: Lander, Rover
Launch Vehicle: Delta II 7925
Launch Site: Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla.
NASA Center: Jet Propulsion Laboratory
Spacecraft Mass: Total mass at launch was 1,062 kg; the rover weighs 174 kg.
Spacecraft Instruments: 1) Panoramic cameras
2) Miniature thermal emission spectrometer
3) Mossbauer spectrometer
4) Alpha particle X-ray spectrometer
5) Microscopic imager
6) Rock abrasion tool
7) Magnet arrays
Spacecraft Power: Solar panel and lithium-ion battery system providing 140 watts on Mars surface
Maximum Power: 140 watts on Mars surface
Total Cost: Approximately $820 million total, consisting approximately of $645 million spacecraft development and science instruments; $100 million launch; $75 million mission operations and science processing
Mars Exploration Rover Landing Press Kit

NASA's twin robot geologists, the Mars Exploration Rovers, launched toward Mars on June 10 and July 7, 2003, in search of answers about the history of water on Mars. They landed on Mars January 3 and January 24 PST, 2004 (January 4 and January 25 UTC, 2004).

The Mars Exploration Rover mission is part of NASA's Mars Exploration Program, a long-term effort of robotic exploration of the red planet.

Primary among the mission's scientific goals is to search for and characterize a wide range of rocks and soils that hold clues to past water activity on Mars. The spacecraft are targeted to sites on opposite sides of Mars that appear to have been affected by liquid water in the past. The landing sites are at Gusev Crater, a possible former lake in a giant impact crater, and Meridiani Planum, where mineral deposits (hematite) suggest Mars had a wet past.

After the airbag-protected landing craft settled onto the surface and opened, the rovers rolled out to take panoramic images. These images give scientists the information they need to select promising geological targets that tell part of the story of water in Mars' past. Then, the rovers drive to those locations to perform on-site scientific investigations.

These are the primary science instruments carried by the rovers:

  • Panoramic Camera (Pancam): for determining the mineralogy, texture, and structure of the local terrain.
  • Miniature Thermal Emission Spectrometer (Mini-TES): for identifying promising rocks and soils for closer examination and for determining the processes that formed Martian rocks. The instrument is designed to look skyward to provide temperature profiles of the Martian atmosphere.
  • M?ssbauer Spectrometer (MB): for close-up investigations of the mineralogy of iron-bearing rocks and soils.
  • Alpha Particle X-Ray Spectrometer (APXS): for close-up analysis of the abundances of elements that make up rocks and soils.
  • Magnets: for collecting magnetic dust particles. The M?ssbauer Spectrometer and the Alpha Particle X-ray Spectrometer are designed to analyze the particles collected and help determine the ratio of magnetic particles to non-magnetic particles. They can also analyze the composition of magnetic minerals in airborne dust and rocks that have been ground by the Rock Abrasion Tool.
  • Microscopic Imager (MI): for obtaining close-up, high-resolution images of rocks and soils.
  • Rock Abrasion Tool (RAT): for removing dusty and weathered rock surfaces and exposing fresh material for examination by instruments onboard.

Before landing, the goal for each rover was to drive up to 40 meters (about 44 yards) in a single day, for a total of up to one kilometer (about three-quarters of a mile). Both goals have been far exceeded.

Moving from place to place, the rovers perform on-site geological investigations. Each rover is sort of the mechanical equivalent of a geologist walking the surface of Mars. The mast-mounted cameras are mounted 1.5 meters(5 feet) high and provide 360-degree, stereoscopic, humanlike views of the terrain. The robotic arm is capable of movement in much the same way as a human arm with an elbow and wrist, and can place instruments directly up against rock and soil targets of interest. In the mechanical "fist" of the arm is a microscopic camera that serves the same purpose as a geologist's handheld magnifying lens. The Rock Abrasion Tool serves the purpose of a geologist's rock hammer to expose the insides of rocks.

Key Dates
10 Jun 2003:  Spirit Launch
7 Jul 2003:  Opportunity Launch
4 Jan 2004:  Spirit Mars Landing (UTC)
25 Jan 2004:  Opportunity Mars Landing (UTC)
Status: Extended Mission on Mars
Fast Facts
Spirit traveled about 500 million kilometers (311 million miles) on its journey to Mars.

A day - or sol - on Mars is 24 hours, 39 min, 35 sec (1.027 Earth days). Spirit is expected to operate for at least 91 sols on Mars.

Spirit carried a memorial (above) to the crew of the Space Shuttle Columbia to the surface of Mars.

Spirit traveled more than 103,000,000 km to get to Mars.

Both Mars Exploration Rovers were designed to last about 92 days. Spirit lasted six years and Opportunity is still functioning seven years after landing.

In 2010, Opportunity surpassed an endurance record set by the Viking 1 lander.

Spirit traveled 7,730 meters -- almost five miles -- before it got mired in deep sand at Gusev Crater on Mars.

Each rover weighs nearly 180 kilograms (about 400 pounds).
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Last Updated: 18 Sep 2013