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Mars Rover Spirit Sets Distance Record - 2004-02-17

The U.S. Mars rover Spirit has set a distance record in its pursuit of evidence the red planet once had liquid water that could have supported life.

Spirit began its day by taking pictures of its wheel tracks, then drove nearly 28 meters toward a crater nicknamed Bonneville, a new Martian record.

The crater is still 245 meters away. Mission engineers in Pasadena, California had originally planned for the six-wheeled vehicle to be closer to it by now, but they say scientists spent more time than planned using its instruments to study rocks and soil along the way.

Spirit's twin on the other side of Mars, Opportunity, is digging its first trench into Martian soil by spinning its right front wheel backward and forward. The spacecraft's sensors have detected that the ground there is rich in a mineral called hematite, which usually forms in water.

Later Tuesday, instruments on its robot arm will examine the hematite-rich soil to help scientists understand the environment in which it formed.