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NASA Extends Mars Rovers' Mission

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posted on Apr, 8 2004 @ 01:00 PM
Donald Savage
Headquarters, Washington
(Phone: 202/358-1547/1726)

Guy Webster
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.
(Phone: 818/354-5011)

April 8, 2004
RELEASE : 04-122

NASA Extends Mars Rovers' Mission

NASA has approved an extended mission for the Mars Exploration Rovers, handing them up to five months of overtime assignments, as they finish their three-month prime mission.

The first of the two, Spirit, met the success criteria set for its prime mission. Spirit gained check marks in the final two boxes on April 3 and 5, when it exceeded 600 meters (1,969 feet) of total drive distance and completed 90 martian operational days after landing.

Opportunity landed three weeks after Spirit. It will complete the two-rover checklist of required feats, when it finishes a 90th martian day of operations April 26. Each martian day, or "sol," lasts about 40 minutes longer than an Earth day.

"Given the rovers' tremendous success, the project submitted a proposal for extending the mission, and we have approved it," said Orlando Figueroa, Mars Exploration Program director at NASA Headquarters, Washington.

The mission extension provides $15 million for operating the rovers through September. The extension more than doubles exploration for less than a two percent additional investment, if the rovers remain in working condition. The extended mission has seven new goals for extending the science and engineering accomplishments of the prime mission.

"Once Opportunity finishes its 91st sol, everything we get from the rovers after that is a bonus," said Dr. Firouz Naderi, manager of Mars exploration at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), Pasadena, Calif., where the rovers were built and are controlled. "Even though the extended mission is approved to September, and the rovers could last even longer, they also might stop in their tracks next week or next month. They are operating under extremely harsh conditions. However, while Spirit is past its 'warranty,' we look forward to continued discoveries by both rovers in the months ahead," he added.

JPL's Jennifer Trosper, Spirit mission manager, said even when a memory-management problem on the rover caused trouble for two weeks, she had confidence the rover and the operations team could get through the crisis and reach the 90-sol benchmark. "We never felt it was over, but certainly when we were getting absolutely no data from the spacecraft and trying to figure out what happened, we were worried," she said.

Trosper was less confident about Spirit's prospects for reaching the criterion of 600 meters by sol 91, given the challenging terrain of the landing area within Gusev Crater. On sol 89, Spirit set a short-lived record for martian driving, with a single-sol distance of 50.2 meters (165 feet) that pushed the odometer total to 617 meters (2,024 feet). Two days later, Opportunity shattered that mark with a 100-meter (328-foot) drive.

Beyond the quantifiable criteria, such as using all research tools at both landing sites and investigating at least eight locations, the rovers have returned remarkable science results. The most dramatic have been Opportunity's findings of evidence of a shallow body of salty water in the past in the Mars Meridiani Planum region.

"We're going to continue exploring and try to understand the water story at Gusev," said JPL's Dr. Mark Adler, deputy mission manager for Spirit. Spirit is in pursuit of geological evidence for an ancient lake thought to have once filled Gusev Crater.

Reaching "Columbia Hills," which could hold geological clues to that water story, is one of seven objectives for the extended mission. Opportunity has a parallel one, to seek geologic context for the outcrop in the "Eagle" crater by reaching other outcrops in the "Endurance" crater and perhaps elsewhere. Other science objectives are to continue atmospheric studies at both sites to encompass more of Mars' seasonal cycle and to calibrate and validate data from Mars orbiters for additional types of rocks and soils examined on the ground.

Three new engineering objectives are to traverse more than a kilometer (0.62 mile) to demonstrate mobility technologies; to characterize solar-array performance over long durations of dust deposition at both landing sites; and to demonstrate long-term operation of two mobile science robots on a distant planet. During the past two weeks, rover teams at JPL have switched from Mars-clock schedules to Earth-clock schedules designed to be less stressful and more sustainable over a longer period.

For more information about the project on the Internet, visit:

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posted on Apr, 11 2004 @ 08:42 PM
hmm no one has replied to this, so I guess I will

This is great news that they've extended the missions. They really did a good job with those rovers. They are defiantely getting there moneys worth out of them. I sure hope they find some new and interesting things durring the extended mission (and take more pics!).

posted on Apr, 12 2004 @ 07:52 PM
So no-one seems to be interested in the Mars rovers anymore. Nope, no one. I just wonder why that is.

I wonder what photo have gotten by us since our preoccupation with the recent events in Iraq.

posted on Apr, 12 2004 @ 07:59 PM
i heard that it will go on as late as november but how long can that little battery last and where can i get one?!?!?! i know that the solar panels contribute to its energy but DAMN!

posted on Apr, 13 2004 @ 04:11 PM
not against the war in iraq but some of the money can be saved there and be given to nasa for its new vision. some bilions or so.

posted on Apr, 13 2004 @ 05:10 PM
I thought that the funny thing about the rovers and their estimated lifetime was that the only reason they will end up going offline is that the solar cells will become covered with martian dust and won't be able to charge the batteries any more. Just a thought, but for $600M a piece, don't you think they could have installed windshield wipers?

posted on Apr, 13 2004 @ 06:25 PM
what's up with the raw images from both rovers?? Some of the pics can't be enlarged and some can. Why is that? All the pics that look promising and I want to take a closer look, doesn't show a larger image.

posted on Apr, 13 2004 @ 06:40 PM
There are a lot more "side costs" then the price of the rover themselves. The problem is the expense of the science team being on that one project instead of say working our tragetory, windows etc for the next mission. While they are attached to the rover mission their salary dollars keep accumulating to that project. Since they only have so many dollars to spend at some point they cross over into the budget of other planned missions and they have less "time and money" then to spend preparing or researching the next mission.

The rovers I am sure could operate autonoumusly (spelling?) for some time sending data into storage, but I assume that without some sort of observation they will go on the blink or that paticular data "file cabinet" will become full and the rovers communication system will shut down, maybe for good.

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