Issue Date: January 12, 2004
Sharpest Pictures Yet From The Red Planet
Concluding a seven-month journey of some 300 million miles, NASA's Mars rover Spirit touched down flawlessly on the red planet and almost immediately began relaying information about its new surroundings.
Situated in what appears to be a long-ago dried-up lake bed in Gusev Crater, the rover's task is to examine rock and soil samples to help determine if water once existed on Mars and whether the planet's conditions could have been suitable for sustaining life.
Spirit is likely to stay put for at least one week before engineers maneuver it away from its landing platform and instruct it to begin investigating its environment. But the robotic explorer has already begun transmitting detailed color photos of the martian landscape with three times greater resolution than those provided by the Mars Pathfinder in 1997, according to NASA officials.
One curiosity that is puzzling scientists is the appearance of tracks in a substance with a mudlike texture in the bone-dry martian soil. The marks are believed to have been made by retracting Spirit's airbags after it landed.
Spirit's twin, Opportunity, is expected to land on the other side of Mars on Jan. 25.
Elsewhere on Mars, the European Space Agency's Beagle 2 Mars explorer has not been heard from, as of C&EN press time, since the vehicle began its descent to the martian surface on Dec. 25. Various attempts to establish communication between the rover and ESA and NASA Mars orbiters have proved unsuccessful so far, but several more opportunities remain.
- Chemical & Engineering News
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