Mars tribute marks memories of Shepard's flight

May 05, 2011 By Guy Webster
NASA's Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity recorded this view of a crater informally named "Freedom 7" shortly before the 50th anniversary of the first American in space: astronaut Alan Shepard's flight in the Freedom 7 spacecraft. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

(PhysOrg.com) -- The team exploring Mars via NASA's Opportunity rover for the past seven years has informally named a Martian crater for the Mercury spacecraft that astronaut Alan Shepard christened Freedom 7. On May 5, 1961, Shepard piloted Freedom 7 in America's first human spaceflight.

The team is using Opportunity this week to acquire images covering a cluster of small, relatively young craters along the rover's route toward a long-term destination. The cluster's largest crater, spanning about 25 meters (82 feet), is the one called "Freedom 7." The diameter of Freedom 7 crater, about 25 meters (82 feet), happens to be equivalent to the height of the Redstone rocket that launched Shepard's flight.

"Many of the people currently involved with the robotic investigations of were first inspired by the astronauts of the Project who paved the way for the exploration of our solar system," said Scott McLennan of the State University of New York at Stony Brook, who is this week's long-term planning leader for the rover science team. Shepard's flight was the first of six Project Mercury missions piloted by solo astronauts.

An image of Freedom 7 crater taken this week is online at: photojournal.jpl.nasa.gov/catalog/PIA13988 .

Rover team member James Rice of NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md., said, "The first 50 years of American manned spaceflight have been built upon immeasurable courage, dedication, sacrifice, vision, patriotism, teamwork and good old-fashioned hard work, all terms that embody and define the United States and her people. Alan Shepard's brave and historic 15-minute flight in Freedom 7 put America in space, and then a scant eight years later, Americans were standing upon the surface of the moon." Shepard himself would later walk on the moon when he commanded the mission in early 1971, less than 10 years after his Freedom 7 flight. He died on July 21, 1998.

By taking advantage of seeing many craters of diverse ages during drives toward major destinations, the Opportunity mission is documenting how impact craters change with time. The cluster that includes Freedom 7 crater formed after sand ripples in the area last migrated, which is estimated to be about 200,000 years ago.

"This cluster has about eight craters, and they're all the same age," said Matt Golombek, rover team member at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. "They're from an impactor that broke up in the atmosphere, which is quite common."

Opportunity and its twin, Spirit, completed their three-month prime missions on Mars in April 2004. Both rovers continued for years of bonus, extended missions. Both have made important discoveries about wet environments on ancient Mars that may have been favorable for supporting microbial life. Spirit has not communicated with Earth since March 2010. Opportunity remains active. It has driven 28.6 kilometers (17.8 miles) total on Mars, including 1.9 kilometers (1.2 miles) since leaving "Santa Maria" crater on March 24, 2011, after studying that for three months.

Explore further: Student to live in simulated space habitat

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Mars Rover images honor Apollo 12

Nov 19, 2010

NASA's Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity has visited and photographed two craters informally named for the spacecraft that carried men to the moon 41 years ago this week.

Opportunity studying a football-field size crater

Dec 23, 2010

(PhysOrg.com) -- On Dec. 16, 2010, NASA's Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity reached a crater about the size of a football field-some 90 meters (295 feet) in diameter. The rover team plans to use cameras and ...

Mars rover's 'Gagarin' moment applauded exploration

Apr 12, 2011

(PhysOrg.com) -- A flat, light-toned rock on Mars visited by NASA's Mars Exploration Rover in 2005 informally bears the name of the first human in space, Yuri Gagarin, who rode into orbit in the Soviet Union's ...

Opportunity Reaches First Target Inside Crater

Sep 27, 2007

NASA's Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity has reached its science team's first destination for the rover inside Victoria Crater, information received from Mars late Tuesday confirms.

Opportunity rover halfway point reached

Sep 09, 2010

(PhysOrg.com) -- When NASA's Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity left Victoria Crater two years ago this month, the rover science team chose Endeavour Crater as the rover's next long-term destination. With ...

Color view from orbit shows mars rover beside crater

Mar 10, 2011

(PhysOrg.com) -- NASA's Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity has nearly completed its three-month examination of a crater informally named "Santa Maria," but before the rover resumes its overland trek, an orbiting ...

Recommended for you

Student to live in simulated space habitat

1 hour ago

A Purdue University industrial engineering doctoral student is among six "crew members" spending the next eight months in a domed habitat on a volcanic landscape mimicking life on a Martian outpost.

The wake-up call that sent hearts racing

4 hours ago

"But as the minutes ticked by, the relaxed attitude of many of us began to dissolve into apprehension. Our levels of adrenaline and worry began to rise."

US-India to collaborate on Mars exploration

13 hours ago

The United States and India, fresh from sending their own respective spacecraft into Mars' orbit earlier this month, on Tuesday agreed to cooperate on future exploration of the Red Planet.

Swift mission observes mega flares from a mini star

14 hours ago

On April 23, NASA's Swift satellite detected the strongest, hottest, and longest-lasting sequence of stellar flares ever seen from a nearby red dwarf star. The initial blast from this record-setting series ...

Sandblasting winds shift Mars' landscape

18 hours ago

High winds are a near-daily force on the surface of Mars, carving out a landscape of shifting dunes and posing a challenge to exploration, scientists said Tuesday.

PanSTARRS K1, the comet that keeps going

21 hours ago

Thank you K1 PanSTARRS for hanging in there! Some comets crumble and fade away. Others linger a few months and move on. But after looping across the night sky for more than a year, this one is nowhere near ...

User comments : 0