First pictures show bizarre martian world
BY WILLIAM HARWOOD
STORY WRITTEN FOR CBS NEWS "SPACE PLACE" & USED WITH PERMISSION
Posted: January 25, 2004
The Opportunity rover unfolded its solar panels and beamed back its first snapshots of Mars four hours after landing today, providing stunning views of nearby slab-like rock formations, the first bedrock ever seen on the red planet. The images also showed what to this point is the smoothest fine-grain soil ever seen on Mars.
"Welcome to Meridiani! I hope you enjoy your stay!" Flight director Chris Lewicki told his landing team as they marveled at the flood of photos. "You are privileged to be in one of the most exciting rooms on Earth at the moment."
"I will attempt no science analysis because it looks like nothing I've ever seen before in my life," Squyres told flight controllers as the black-and-white navigation camera images flashed on large projection screens. "You all heard about the deeply corrugated terrain that was at the west end of the landing ellipse. What we're seeing here, I believe, is a more subtle, certainly more trafficable version of the same stuff here.
"As we expected," he continued, and then stopped, caught off guard by yet another striking photo. "Holy smokes! I'm sorry, I'm just blown away by this." He then continued, saying "we had expected to see something that was very flat on a broad scale and that was hilly and hummocky on a finer, more regional scale and that's what we're seeing. That outcrop is just out of this world. I can't wait to get there. I've got nothing else to say. These are fantastic. This is the sweetest spot I've ever seen."
As fresh pictures flashed into view, the control team cheered or murmured in amazement.
"I've got no words for this," Squyres said, looking at the nearby formation. "The slabbiness of this is intriguing. Now, volcanic units can do this, too, but sedimentary rocks definitely do that. I got no idea what we're looking at. But the slabby nature of this is fascinating. I'd say that outcrop is a fairly attractive first traverse target, you think?"
The control team laughed aloud. But it will be a while before Opportunity is ready to roll off its lander and onto the martian surface. Engineers will need two weeks or more to fully activate and check out the rover's systems and to take a color, stereo panorama of the landing site. Complicating the issue, flight controllers likely will take a bit more time than normal to make sure a computer glitch like the one that recently crippled Spirit doesn't hobble Opportunity as well.
But so far, "we done good," joked project manager Pete Theisinger during a post-landing news conference at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Larry Soderblum, a science team member with the U.S. Geological Survey, agreed, saying "the crescendo has grown and grown and grown and finally, here it is. Martian paydirt."
"It's very difficult to reconcile going to Mars and finding a place that's safe enough to land and expecting to find something interesting when you get there. It's like going to the middle of Oklahoma and hoping you'll find the Grand Canyon. ... It's very difficult, even with the best images, to know what you're going to get until you get on the surface. It's a shot in the dark, choosing a landing site. We hit the nail squarely on the head and we have a scientific jackpot. We have a payload that's tuned to take it apart. Let's go for it!"
Squyres said Opportunity may have landed in a crater.
"Whether or not we're in a crater will become more clear as we get a better sense of where we are," he said. "Certainly, if we're in a crater it's one that I don't expect to have any significant difficulty climbing out of. In terms of rover trafficability, how can it get any better? I mean, smooth sailing to the horizon. And then, those rocks.
"This is the first bedrock outcrop ever seen on Mars at a landing site. What we'll find when we get there, I don't know."
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