Mars Rover Team Plays It Safes With Spirit

Mar 06, 2006
Mars Rover Team Plays It Safes With Spirit

NASA's Spirit recorded this view while approaching the northwestern edge of the formation Mars Exploration Rover mission controllers have named Home Plate, a circular plateau-like area of bright, layered outcrop material roughly 80 meters (260 feet) in diameter.

The images combined into this mosaic were taken by Spirit's navigation camera during the rover's 746th, 748th and 750th Martian days, or sols (Feb. 7, 9 and 11, 2006).

With the Martian winter closing in, controllers working with Spirit have decided to play it safe for the time being, rather than attempt to visit the far side of Home Plate in search of rock layers that might show evidence of a past watery environment. This feature has been one of the major milestones of the mission.

Though it is conceivable that rock layers might be exposed on the opposite side, sunlight is diminishing on the rover's solar panels and team members chose not to travel in a counterclockwise direction, which would take the rover to the west and south slopes of the plateau. Slopes in that direction are hidden from view and team members chose, following a long, thorough discussion, to have the rover travel clockwise and remain on north-facing slopes rather than risk sending the rover deeper into unknown terrain.

In addition to studying numerous images from Spirit's cameras, rover team members have studied three-dimensional models created with images from the Mars Orbiter Camera on NASA's Mars Globel Surveyor orbiter. The models showed a valley on the southern side of Home Plate, the slopes of which might cause the rover's solar panels to lose power for unknown lengths of time. In addition, images from Spirit's cameras showed a nearby, talus-covered section of slope on the west side of Home Plate, rather than exposed rock layers scientists eventually hope to investigate.

Home Plate has been on the rover's potential itinerary since the early days of the mission, when it stood out in images taken by the Mars Orbiter Camera shortly after Spirit landed on Mars. The rover arrived at Home Plate after traveling 4 miles (6.4 kilometers) across the plains of Gusev Crater, up the slopes of West Spur and Husband Hill, and down again. Scientists are studying the origin of the layering in the outcrop using the Athena science instruments on the rover's arm.

Copyright 2006 by Space Daily, Distributed United Press International

Explore further: Europe hoists first navigation satellites post mislaunch

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

What is Mars made of?

Feb 26, 2015

For thousands of years, human beings have stared up at the sky and wondered about the Red Planet. Easily seen from Earth with the naked eye, ancient astronomers have charted its course across the heavens ...

NASA's Mars Rover Spirit Faces Circuitous Route

Mar 05, 2009

(PhysOrg.com) -- Loose soil piled against the northern edge of a low plateau called "Home Plate" has blocked NASA's Mars Exploration Rover Spirit from taking the shortest route toward its southward destinations ...

Packing for Mars

Oct 22, 2014

Like surgeons in an operating room, the technicians work gowned and masked in ESA's ultraclean microbiology laboratory, ensuring a high-tech sensor will not contaminate the Red Planet with terrestrial microbes.

Recommended for you

More evidence for groundwater on Mars

8 hours ago

Monica Pondrelli and colleagues investigated the Equatorial Layered Deposits (ELDs) of Arabia Terra in Firsoff crater area, Mars, to understand their formation and potential habitability. On the plateau, ...

Is the universe finite or infinite?

11 hours ago

Two possiblities exist: either the Universe is finite and has a size, or it's infinite and goes on forever. Both possibilities have mind-bending implications.

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.