Spirit rover establishes new Mars driving record

Posted: February 10, 2004

The rover Spirit drove into the Martian history books Monday night by making the longest single-day traverse on the Red Planet, eclipsing the mark set by Mars Pathfinder's Sojourner rover in 1997.

Spirit cruised 69.6 feet (21.2 meters), shattering Sojourner's record of 23 feet (7 meters).

From Spirit's rear-looking camera, the rover's wheel tracks and lander base are visible during driving on Monday night. Credit: NASA/JPL
"The basic goal was drive as far as they could and see how things went in the time they had. They did very well," mission manager Jim Erickson said of the Spirit rover controllers.

"They used two different types of drives. A blind drive -- a pre-planned with no hazardous avoidance turned on -- for 13 meters. And then they performed a drive with a go-to waypoint."

That second drive instructed the rover to drive from one point to another on its own, making a turn autonomously.

"Everything seemed to go fine there," Erickson said.

Spirit is headed for a large crater in the distance called Bonneville. Exactly how long it will take to reach the target isn't known, but engineers hope the amount of driving will increase each day.

"Tomorrow's plan is further driving. The day after that is driving even further," Erickson said.

"I expect we are going to start out kind of slow -- although 21.2 meters is not that slow -- and built up as we get more experience in long-term driving."

Spirit began roving late Sunday, leaving behind the first rock it examined. The craft moved 21 feet (6.4 meters), and simply drove over the pyramid-shaped Adirondack.

The rover spent several weeks parked in front of Adirondack as the science instruments examined the rock, determining the mineral and elemental composition. The Rock Abrasion Tool then carved a small hole into Adirondack to remove the outer surface.

"It's really opened up a window into the interior of this (rock) that we can use to understand this rock really well," lead scientist Steve Squyres said.

With the cutting complete, the Microscopic Imager, Alpha Particle X-Ray Spectrometer and Mossbauer Spectrometer instruments then examined the RAT hole.

This close-up image taken by the Microscopic Imager onboard Spirit shows Adirondack after a portion of its surface was ground off by the rover's Rock Abrasion Tool. The observed area is 3 centimeters (1.2 inches) across. Credit: NASA/JPL/Cornell/USGS
"What you are seeing there is a beautifully cut, almost polished rock surface," Squyres said, referring to the microscopic image. "It looks very, very much like -- in the image -- a volcanic rock, a basalt. And, in fact, when we look at this with the APXS and Mossbauer, we find compelling compositional evidence that, in fact, what we are looking at is a volcanic basaltic rock.

"So the RAT has revealed the interior of this rock. We know what it is -- a piece of volcanic stuff. And it is time to move on."

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This new poster features some of the best images from the Mars Exploration Rover Spirit.