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Mars Rover Leaves Platform - 2004-01-15

The U.S. Mars rover has driven off its landing platform onto the red planet's soil. It was a short maneuver, but emotional for the mission team.

Mission controllers at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California commanded the Spirit rover to drive forward three meters -- dropping all six of its wheels firmly onto Martian terrain.

Mission official Rob Manning says that, soon after, the rover confirmed its successful deployment by transmitting black and white pictures looking back at the landing platform and showing its track marks in the dirt. "That's image we're waiting for. We're now on Mars," he says. "Our wheels are finally dirty. This is very exciting. Ah, what a relief!"

Once on Martian soil, the rover paused to realign its camera and antenna for the work ahead of it.

Mission scientists will soon direct the vehicle to collect soil and rock samples, although the schedule is not clear. They are seeking chemical evidence that water once flowed on Mars and the planet could have been hospitable to life.