Spirit & Opportunity on Mars
2003 – When the Earth and the Planet Mars were aligned, creating the fuel saving trajectory that occurs every "26 months", NASA launched a pair of Mars exploration rovers toward the "Red Planet".
These two separate, but identical,
robot rovers landed on Mars, using a beach-ball style
landing technique bouncing them onto the Red Planets surface 27 days apart.
Sending two spacecraft, increased the chances of success and helped ease the sting from the failure of two Mars-bound spacecraft the year before.
Two rovers also increased the speed
for the search for the mysterious missing Mars water and
helped explore the possibility that the planet once harbored
Both of the sophisticated mobile robots were able to act as mechanical geologists, examining and even breaking open rocks to search for clues to Mars' history.
Instruments analyzed the rock chemistry and a microscopic camera sent close up images back to Earth.
The Mars 2003
Rovers each weighed about 300 pounds and cruised the
planet on six wheels powered by solar-charged electrical
Each communicated independently with Earth, using a pop-up dish antenna.
Pictures collected by the rovers were relayed immediately back to earth and were made available to the public.
"You could see a rover's-eye view'' of Mars. The robots were expected to operate for at least 90 days each and were expected to be able
to roam about 110 yards during each of the Martian days (24 hours, 37 minutes).
The rovers far exceeded their life
expectancy and performance capabilities. The robots have
20/20 color vision from 10 cameras onboard each vehicle.
One camera is used for navigation and is linked to an onboard computer that let the rovers look ahead and plot a wheeled course to specific destinations.
Each Rover is so intelligent, that it can avoid obstacles and take alternate paths without being told. A single arm on the rover contains a tool that breaks open rocks
and a camera that gives microscopic views of grain-sized specimens. The rovers were launched separately from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida by Delta 2 rockets.
The first "Spirit" was launched on Tuesday June 10th 2003, and she made her way to "Gusev Crater" to begin exploration.
The second rover "Opportunity" was launched on Monday July 7th 2003 to make her way to "Meridiani Planum" to begin sending back data.
After a trip of 7 1/2 months, the robots reached Mars and fell through the Martain atmosphere, protected by heat shields. At seven miles above the surface, the parachutes
deployed and lowered each craft to within a 1,000 feet. At that point, the air bags inflated, surrounding the robots as the spacecraft are lowered to the surface.
They bounced and rolled for maybe a half mile, then the air bags deflated and the rovers reported back to earth and began to roll off on their own.
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