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Mars Rover <i>Spirit</i> Deemed Healthy - 2004-02-02

The troubled U.S. Mars rover Spirit is healthy again after the repair of its computer. The six-wheeled vehicle is finally resuming science operations that were halted almost two weeks ago.

Spirit arrived at Mars one month ago, but a computer memory overload interrupted its operations less than three weeks later.

Engineers have been busy deleting hundreds of data files accumulated since its June launch. They are ready to reformat Spirit's memory with a clean version of the flight software and restart the computer.

"It's a great day," said mission manager Jennifer Trosper. "It was a great weekend on Spirit and we have two operational rovers on the surface of Mars again."

She says that while technicians finish restoring Spirit's computer, the rover is beginning to acquire data on a nearby rock named Adirondack at which it was aiming when it broke down.

"Today we are doing science on Spirit just like we were," Ms. Trosper said.

Spirit and its twin rover Opportunity on the other side of Mars are seeking geologic evidence that Mars once had liquid water that could have supported life.

Ms. Trosper says Spirit's operators are extending its instrument arm to brush the Martian dust from Adirondack, get close-up images with its microscope camera, and determine the rock's mineral content with an infrared sensor. She notes that they will use an abrasion tool Tuesday to scratch below its surface before moving on to its next target.

"As soon as we're done with Adirondack, we are already strategizing on how to drive far and fast with this rover, and that's the next thing," she said.

The Opportunity rover, meanwhile, has finished transmitting a 360-degree color panoramic image of the shallow crater it is in. The camera took it in sections, which researchers pieced together for the full view. Mission scientist Jeff Johnson of the U.S. Geological Survey says the picture is extremely sharp and depicts a wide expanse of reddish soil and the crater's bumpy rim.

"This wonderful 360 [degree] panorama is in stereo and it provides us with a real sense of 'you are there' at the site, gives us a feeling for this bowl-shaped depression that we are now in," he said.

Mr. Johnson says Opportunity will move next toward an exposure of Martian bedrock sticking through the crater's dark soil. The bedrock is layered, and scientists say each layer tells a story about an event in Mars' history that will help them understand its geologic past in their search for liquid water.