NASA ready for Opportunity
One Mars rover prepares for liftoff as another cruises steadily toward their destination.
June 28, 2003
NASA's second Mars Exploration Rover, Opportunity, is scheduled to launch from Cape Canaveral on June 28, 2004, as its twin, Spirit, continues its flawless journey toward the Red Planet.
Spirit, which launched on June 10, successfully completed its first trajectory correction maneuvers on June 20. At that time, Spirit was 1,653,000 miles from Earth and traveling at a speed of 72,100 miles per hour relative to the sun.
Originally planned for June 25, Opportunity's launch was delayed a few days to repair a cracked band of cork insulation on its Boeing Delta II rocket. Opportunity's launch is now scheduled for Saturday at 11:56:16 pm EDT, with a backup time on Sunday at 12:37:59 am EDT. More launch times are scheduled for Sunday in case of an additional delay; the launch window extends through July 15.
Spirit will arrive at Mars on the evening of January 3, 2004, EDT. Opportunity will land on Mars on January 25, 2004, but at a site roughly halfway around the planet from Spirit. Each identical rover carries a panoramic camera, a microscope, and three different types of spectrometers, as well as a special rock abrasion tool.
The vehicles' primary mission is to determine the geologic history of two sites that display evidence of having been affected by liquid water in the past. Spirit's site, Gusev Crater, is a wide basin that may once have been a lake; Opportunity's site, Meridiani Planum, shows an outcropping of gray hematite, a mineral usually formed in the presence of liquid water. The conditions at the two sites may have at one time been favorable to life.
Following their airbag-protected landings, the two rovers will first take 360-degree visible and infrared panoramas of their immediate surroundings then leave their landing structures behind. Using their rock abrasion tools, the vehicles will expose fresh rock surfaces and analyze them with their on-board scientific equipment. Scientists will remotely command Spirit and Opportunity to rock and soil targets of interest. With a range of up to 44 yards per martian day, the 400-pound rovers will be able to cover considerably more ground than NASA's previous Sojourner rover.
The rovers' mission is scheduled to last until April 2004 but could be extended depending upon the condition of the two vehicles.
Update: Opportunity's launch has been delayed even further. It is now scheduled to launch at 10:35 pm EDT on Monday, July 7. The extra time is to allow workers to replace a failed battery cell in Opportunity's Delta II rocket.