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Robot Launched to Explore Surface of Mars - 2003-06-10

The first of two unmanned robotic rovers on a mission to Mars launched from Cape Canaveral Tuesday, two days after storms and high winds delayed its lift off. Dave Deforest reports.


The first robotic explorer which NASA has named “Spirit”, will travel to a site on the Martian surface where scientists believe a lake once existed. Scientists have chosen a second site to be explored by a second rover, named “Opportunity”. It will be launched on June 25th.

Previous missions have found Mars once had water, but scientists want to find out how much water there was and how long it stayed. Researchers say the water may show Mars was once able to support life. NASA’s Orlando Figueroa heads the Mars Exploration Program:

“We will be able to move around, pick the rocks and the soil that we actually want to look at in greater detail and even be able to scrape some of the surface of the rocks and understand what they are made of, whether there is any evidence that water indeed was persistent in those places.”

The Mars rovers will be robotic geologists, moving on six wheels. Each one is about one meter tall and equipped with cameras, infrared sensors and a drill to sample rocks. Steve Squyers is the lead scientist for the rovers:

“What I think is so cool about this vehicle is that for the first time is going to enable us to truly explore, to truly move about on the surface of another planet.

Both rovers are scheduled to arrive on Mars next January and their mission is expected to last at least three months. They eventually will shut down as dust builds up on their solar panels, their only power supply.