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Mars Rover Team Weary But Hanging In After 900 Sols

One more frame of Spirit's McMurdo Panorama, taken on the slopes of McCool Hill in the Gusev region of Mars, on sol 902 of the rover's 90-sol mission. Image credit: NASA/JPL/Cornell
by Phil Berardelli
Space Daily US Editor
Washington DC (SPX) Jul 25, 2006
In terms of "going and going and going," the Energizer Bunny has nothing on NASA's twin Mars Exploration Rovers. Originally designed to operate in the harsh environment of the red planet for 90 sols, or Martian days, Spirit recently passed its 900th sol, and Opportunity will reach that mark within two weeks.

The elation by the mission-control team at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., at the successful landings and spectacular performances of the rovers eventually gave way to the sense that they were gathering a scientific bounty of unprecedented proportions.

Instead of an intense but temporary experience, the daily operations of managing the rovers - and receiving and processing their images and data - have taken on the routine of a cottage industry.

The mission team has had to adjust to the rigors of working according to the Martian sol, which is 24.66 hours long. Scientists and engineers also have had to put other projects on indefinite hold, as the rovers carry on.

Steve Squyres of Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y., who is principal investigator for the Mars rover mission, updated SpaceDaily on activities and morale at JPL:

SD: Could you comment on the fact that the rovers are at 900 sols and still seeming indefatigable?

SS: We're stunned, of course. Having them last 10 times longer than we planned is something none of us could have imagined at the start of the mission. We're so far into the mission now that every day feels like a gift. So we just push them as hard as we can every day, and hope that they'll still be there when we come in the next morning.

SD: How are you guys holding out?

SS: We're tired! The rovers are priceless, and we can't just decide that we're tired and let them sit for a week doing nothing while we all go to the beach. So we have to keep pushing. But we're holding up OK, and I think we've got a way of operating them now that will be sustainable for the long term - however long that turns out to be.

SD: Just as important, how's the funding holding out?

SS: Fine. At the moment we're funded through September 2007.

SD: So you all plan to keep going as long as the rovers do.

SS: That's the plan.

SD: Is there any danger that Spirit would become permanently stuck if it stays in the same spot through the winter?

SS: We don't think so. It's not like a car where you have liquid lubricants, the potential for rust, and so forth. So we don't expect anything to seize up. Once we're done taking the big McMurdo Panorama - which is nearly done now - we're talking about trying a few small rover moves to bring some new targets within reach of the arm.

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Sunning Frozen Soil Could Answer Martian Life Question
Pasadena CA (SPX) Jul 24, 2006
Pasadena CA (SPX) Jul 24, 2006 The answer to the question about life on Mars may very well come from analyzing an unsuspecting source - the soil, specifically the icy layer of soil underneath the red planet's surface. By analyzing the properties of Mars frozen layer of soil during NASA's next lander mission, scientists will be able to better understand and theorize about life on Mars.

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