Press Release

Spirit Lowers Front Wheels, Looks Around in Infrared

By SpaceRef Editor
January 10, 2004
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Spirit Lowers Front Wheels, Looks Around in Infrared
Mars

NASA’s Spirit, the first of two Mars Exploration Rovers on the martian
surface, has stood up and extended its front wheels while continuing
to delight its human partners with new information about its
neighborhood within Mars’ Gusev Crater.


Traces of carbonate minerals showed up in the rover’s first survey of
the site with its infrared sensing instrument, called the miniature
thermal emission spectrometer or Mini-TES. Carbonates form in the
presence of water, but it’s too early to tell whether the amounts
detected come from interaction with water vapor in Mars’ atmosphere or
are evidence of a watery local environment in the past, scientists
emphasized.


"We came looking for carbonates. We have them. We’re going to chase
them," said Dr. Phil Christensen of Arizona State University, Tempe,
leader of the Mini-TES team. Previous infrared readings from Mars
orbit have revealed a low concentration of carbonates distributed
globally. Christensen has interpreted that as the result of dust
interaction with atmospheric water. First indications are that the
carbonate concentration near Spirit may be higher than the Mars global
average.


After the rover drives off its lander platform, infrared measurements
it takes as it explores the area may allow scientists to judge whether
the water indicated by the nearby carbonates was in the air or in a
suspected ancient lake.


"The beauty is we know how to find out," said Dr. Steve Squyres of
Cornell University, Ithaca, N.Y., principal investigator for the
mission. "Is the carbonate concentrated in fluffy dust? That might
favor the atmospheric hypothesis. Is it concentrated in coarser
material? That might favor the water hypothesis."


Spirit accomplished a key step late Thursday in preparing for rolling
off the lander. In anticipation, the flight team at NASA Jet
Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., played Bob Marley’s "Get
Up, Stand Up" as wake-up music for the sixth morning on Mars, said
JPL’s Matt Wallace, mission manager. In the following hours, the
rover was raised by a lift mechanism under its belly, and its front
wheels were fully extended. Then the rover was set back down, raised
again and set down again to check whether suspension mechanisms had
latched properly.


Pictures returned from the rover’s navigation camera and front
hazard-identification camera, plus other data, confirmed success.


"We are very, very, very pleased to see the rover complete the most
critical part of the stand-up process," Wallace said. Next steps
include retracting the lift mechanism and extending the rear wheels.


A tug on airbag tendons by the airbag retraction motor Thursday
evening did not lower puffed up portions of airbag material that are a
potential obstacle to driving the rover straight forward to exit the
lander. The most likely path for driving off will be to turn 120
degrees to the right before rolling off. "This is something we have
practiced many times. We are very comfortable doing it," Wallace said.


The earliest scenario for getting the rover off the lander, if all
goes smoothly, is Spirit’s 13th or 14th day on Mars, Jan. 16 or 17.


"We’re proceeding in a measured, temperate way," said JPL’s Peter
Theisinger, project manager for the Mars Exploration Rover project.
"This is a priceless asset. It is fully functioning. It is sitting in
a beautiful scientific target. We’re not going to take any
inappropriate risks."


While preparing to learn more about what Mars rocks are made of,
Christensen announced an educational project to involve school
children and other people in getting rocks from all over Earth for
comparison. "Send me your rocks and we’ll see if there are rocks in
your back yard that are similar to what we’re seeing on Mars," he
said. Information about how to send rocks to Arizona State University
is on the rovers’ Web site at


http://marsrovers.jpl.nasa.gov/home/index.html


Spirit’s twin Mars Exploration Rover, Opportunity, will reach Mars on
Jan. 25 (Universal Time and EST; Jan. 24 PST). The rovers’ main task
is to spend three months exploring for clues in rocks and soil about
whether past environments near the landing sites were ever watery and
possibly suitable to sustain life.


JPL, a division of the California Institute of Technology, manages the
Mars Exploration Rover project for NASA’s Office of Space Science,
Washington.

SpaceRef staff editor.