The Mars Exploration Rover Mission
By: Morgan Johnson
NASA began the ongoing exploration of Mars in 2003 with the launch of two robotic rovers, Spirit and Opportunity. These rovers were launched on June 10th and July 7th 2003. NASA’s goal is to explore the history of water on the planet Mars by characterizing a wide range of rocks and soils to determine if they hold clues to the past presence of water.
The rovers landed on Mars January 3rd 2004 and January 24th 2004 on opposite ends of Mars. The rovers were to do a 90-day scientific investigation of their areas. The rovers look much like a robotic geologist and travel on average 3/4 of a mile a day.
Tools the rovers traveled with were a panoramic camera, miniature thermal emission spectrometer (identifies the process in which a rock is formed by), mössbauer spectrometer (investigates iron bearing soils and rocks), alpha particle x-ray spectrometer (for up close analysis of the make up of elements that are contained in rocks and soils), magnets for collecting dust particles, microscopic imager (for close up high resolution images) and a rock abrasion tool (used for exposing fresh layers on rocks for examination).
Over the last 2 years, both rovers have revealed a substantial amount of evidence that at some time, liquid water was present at both sites. The rover Opportunity found evidence of hematite, a mineral formed mostly in the presence of water. Spirit found evidence later on of water.
The mission will uncover information on geology and astronomy. The first pictures taken of Earth from another planet have been taken on this mission. Much of the data that both rovers have collected will not be analyzed until they return to Earth.
Throughout the mission problems and difficulties have arisen. In February of this year, the rover Spirit landed on a site named “Home Plate”. The findings from this site have puzzled and confused scientists. Pictures revealed of this site put people in complete awe with the beauty of it. The hypothesis of the formation of this site is very controversial right now with the addition of these new images. Some feel that impact deposits, or volcanic deposits and even wind- or water-lain sediments formed the basin.
This is just one example of many that the rover’s discoveries have uncovered for NASA scientists. Both rovers have and will continue to contribute to the understanding and knowledge of Mars.
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Planet Rovers. 2 Apr. 2006. Space.com. 2 Apr. 2006
“Summary.” Mars Exploration Rover Mission. 6 Apr. 2005. NASA. 2 Apr. 2006