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Mars Orbiter Photographs Old NASA Lander

Bright dot near lower-left corner of image is three-petal lander platform from 2004 mission, Feb. 9, 2012.
Bright dot near lower-left corner of image is three-petal lander platform from 2004 mission, Feb. 9, 2012.

The U.S. space agency, NASA, says new images of the Martian surface shot with a high-resolution camera aboard its Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter show the landing platform where the rover Spirit embarked on its original exploration mission, eight years ago.

NASA says the first color pictures from orbit of the three-petaled Spirit lander were taken with the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment, or HiRISE, camera.

Another recent HiRISE image shows NASA’s Phoenix Mars Lander and its surroundings near the red planet's north polar ice cap. The new pictures were taken late last month.

NASA says each telescopic image taken by the HiRISE camera covers an area of several square kilometers, but can reveal features as small as a desk.

The Spirit rover and the Phoenix lander are no longer functioning, but both robotic Mars explorers far exceeded their original missions.

The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, launched in 2006, has also performed beyond expectations. NASA says the six instruments on board have returned more data about Mars than all other orbital and surface missions combined.

Spirit first drove off its landing platform in 2004, beginning an original three-month mission that ended up lasting for six years. The golf-cart sized rover spent most of its working life in a range of hills a little over three kilometers east of its lander. Spirit stopped communicating with mission control on Earth in March 2010, but its twin rover, Opportunity, is still exploring and returning data from the Martian surface.

The Phoenix Mars Lander touched down on Mars in May 2008.

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