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Robust Robotic Explorers Begin 6th Year on Mars

NASA Mars Rovers Spirit and Opportunity Five Years and Counting



Spirit and Opportunity are two rovers, launched by NASA, which landed on Mars in early 2004.  Their original mission to was explore the planet for 90 days - they are now beginning their 6th year of exploration.  Examples such as this show the great potential for well engineered and fortunate missions.  Fortunate because the length of the mission beyond its original three months is a result of the unexpected, but much appreciated, Martian wind.  Mars is very dusty and without these wind storms the solar panels on the rovers, which provide them with electrical power, would be covered in dust.  NASA management noted this extraordinary length in a statement. 

"The American taxpayer was told three months for each rover was the prime mission plan," said Ed Weiler, associate administrator for NASA's Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington. "The twins have worked almost 20 times that long.  That's an extraordinary return of investment in these challenging budgetary times."

While the robust rovers have survived almost 20 times their expected lifetime they are subjected to a very harsh environment -- an environment that could take its final toll at any time. The Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) has been managing this mission for NASA and project manager John Callas noted their vulnerability in a recent statement

"These rovers are incredibly resilient considering the extreme environment the hardware experiences every day.  We realize that a major rover component on either vehicle could fail at any time and end a mission with no advance notice, but on the other hand, we could accomplish the equivalent duration of four more prime missions on each rover in the year ahead."


The principal investigator Steve Squyres, in charge of scientific operations of the rovers, noted in a statement: "The journeys have been motivated by science, but have led to something else important. This has turned into humanity's first overland expedition on another planet. When people look back on this period of Mars exploration decades from now, Spirit and Opportunity may be considered most significant not for the science they accomplished, but for the first time we truly went exploring across the surface of Mars."

As some of the first true explorers of the solar system we can only be inspired by these examples of persistent and 'driven' explorers. 

For more information on Spirit and Opportunity:

See the NASA Mission Page

See the Mission News Archive (includes numerous amazing images)

Executive Editor
Bradley Cheetham

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