Mars Rover Spirit Lander Site

Spirit Lander
Spirit Lander and Bonneville Crater
Image Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech / University of Arizona

The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) captured the image above, showing the lander for the Mars Rover Spirit in the lower left hand corner (see the circle – click on the image to enlarge it).

The High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera on the MRO recorded this image on 29 January 2012.

Opportunity’s Journey

Vesta
Opportunity – From Eagle Crater to Endeavour Crater
Image Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech / MSSS

On 27 May 2011, after 2,609 Martian days since landing in Eagle Crater, the Mars Rover Opportunity reached the end point at the lower right of the yellow line on the map above. It is 2.2 miles (3.5 kilometers) from the rim of Endeavour Crater.

Opportunity landed inside Eagle Crater in January of 2004, and spent two months exploring its “nest”. In late March it climbed out of Eagle Crater and began its trek toward Endurance Crater. By the end of April, the rover had completed its 90 day mission. In May, Opportunity began its descent into Endurance Crater.

Six months later, Opportunity left Endurance and began a long traverse to Victoria Crater (see the map). It reached the 500 meter crater in late September of 2006. After two years of exploration, Opportunity climbed out of the crater in September of 2008, and began a 12 kilometer journey to Endeavour.

Endeavour is 22 kilometers in diameter, and exposes much deeper and ancient Martian geology than anything explored so far.

In honor of Opportunity’s rover twin, the team has chosen “Spirit Point” on Cape York as the informal name for the site on Endeavour’s rim targeted for Opportunity’s arrival at Endeavour.

Spirit

I remember when Spirit landed on Mars. I listened and watched at two in the morning with my wife telling me I was crazy. Now, we may have lost Spirit. Six years past her 90 day warranty, Spirit may not tell us anything more about Mars.

“It will be the miracle from Mars if our beloved rover phones home,” said Doug McCuistion, director of NASA’s Mars Exploration Program in Washington. “It’s never faced this type of severe condition before – this is unknown territory.”

Opportunity, which is en-route to a large crater named Endeavour, remains in good health. This week, it sent home its first picture of a Martian dust devil.

Opportunity
Opportunity and the Dust Devil
Image Credit: NASA / JPL

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Curiosity Prepares for the Big Show

Curiosity
Schematic of the Mars Curiosity Rover
Image Credit: NASA / JPL-CalTech

The next Mars science rover is taking shape at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL). Curiosity, technically known as the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL), was named by Clara Ma, who said:

I selected the name Curiosity and I chose that name because I was really curious about space and our planets and our solar system and I wanted to learn more about it.

The Mars Science Laboratory is scheduled to launch between 25 November and 18 December 2011 aboard an Atlas V 541 and land on the Red Planet in August of 2012. Today, 23 July 2010, Curiosity took its first drive, and the video can be seen here.

Curiosity, unlike the current Mars rovers, Spirit and Opportunity (operating on solar panels), will carry a radioisotope power system that generates electricity from the heat of plutonium’s radioactive decay. This will give Curiosity the ability to move without consideration of the time of year (winter on Mars means limited solar power). It will enhance the science payload and allow for the exploration of a much larger range of latitudes and altitudes.

Since the two previous Mars rovers (Spirit and Opportunity) have been so successful (operating for more than ten times the 90 day warranty), three of the key elements of the MSL mission are technological:

  • Demonstrate the ability to land a very large, heavy rover to the surface of Mars (which could be used for a future Mars Sample Return mission that would collect rocks and soils and send them back to Earth for laboratory analysis)
  • Demonstrate the ability to land more precisely in a 20-kilometer (12.4-mile) landing circle
  • Demonstrate long-range mobility on the surface of the red planet (5-20 kilometers or about 3 to 12 miles) for the collection of more diverse samples and studies.

These are elements that will become increasingly important as we approach sending manned missions the Phobos, and later to Mars itself.

Curiosity
Curiosity on Mars
Image Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech

The instruments aboard the MSL are designed to accomplish a set of Mission Objectives:

  • Cameras
  • Mast Camera (Mastcam)
  • Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI)
  • Mars Descent Imager (MARDI)
  • Spectrometers
  • Alpha Particle X-Ray Spectrometer (APXS)
  • Chemistry & Camera (ChemCam)
  • Chemistry & Mineralogy X-Ray Diffraction/X-Ray Fluorescence Instrument (CheMin)
  • Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) Instrument Suite
  • Radiation Detectors
  • Radiation Assessment Detector (RAD)
  • Dynamic Albedo of Neutrons (DAN)
  • Environmental Sensors
  • Rover Environmental Monitoring Station (REMS)
  • Atmospheric Sensors
  • Mars Science Laboratory Entry Descent and Landing Instrument (MEDLI)

Mission Objectives

  • Biological objectives:
  • Determine the nature and inventory of organic carbon compounds
  • Inventory the chemical building blocks of life (carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen, phosphorous, and sulfur)
  • Identify features that may represent the effects of biological processes
  • Geological and geochemical objectives:
  • Investigate the chemical, isotopic, and mineralogical composition of the martian surface and near-surface geological materials
  • Interpret the processes that have formed and modified rocks and soils
  • Planetary process objectives:
  • Assess long-timescale (i.e., 4-billion-year) atmospheric evolution processes
  • Determine present state, distribution, and cycling of water and carbon dioxide
  • Surface radiation objective:
  • Characterize the broad spectrum of surface radiation, including galactic cosmic radiation, solar proton events, and secondary neutrons

Following a heat-shield descent through the Martian atmosphere and a parachute descent, the Mars Science Laboratory will complete its descent under the rocket powered Sky Crane:

Curiosity Sky Crane
Curiosity Descending Under the Sky Crane
Image Credit: NASA

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