BY JUSTIN RAY
Follow the landing of NASA's "Spirit" Mars Exploration Rover-A on the Red Planet! Reload this page for the very latest on the mission.
SUNDAY, JANUARY 25, 2004
2116 GMT (4:16 p.m. EST)
As suspected overnight when the first images arrived on Earth, the rover has landed inside "a 20-meter diameter" crater, Squyres reports. The crater is estimated to be "a couple of meters deep." Therefore, it should not be a challenge for the rover to drive out, he said.
A much larger crater, seen in the descent camera images, is near the lander and likely within reach of Opportunity to explore.
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In the past day, engineers have determined that Spirit's flash memory hardware is OK. A leading theory today is that a portion of the rover's software simply couldn't cope with all that was happening on Wednesday when the trouble began.
The rover's batteries are now fully charged and the craft shortly will be going to sleep for the night. But before nighttime it will be relaying data to the Mars Odyssey orbiter including engineering and diagnostic information.
Theisinger predicts that Spirit will resume driving around the surface in a couple of weeks.
Meanwhile, the Opportunity rover is operating properly following its landing last night.
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A NASA news conference is upcoming at 4 p.m. EST.
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Mission Control says the data bundle should include the pictures from the lander's descent imaging camera showing the surface just prior to touchdown.
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We will update this page when information becomes available from the Odyssey pass.
The next rover news conference is scheduled for 4 p.m. EST.
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"This is exactly what it looked like in my wildest dreams. But they were pretty wild!" Squyres says.
Squyres guesses the rover might actually be down in a crater.
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The heading is about 26 degrees or north-northeast.
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"I am just speechless," said JPL director Charles Elachi. "A friend of mine told me 'good things happen slowly but great things happen suddenly.' Today, I know exactly what he meant."
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As the images were coming to Earth, rover scientist Steve Squyres said, "I will attempt no science analysis because it looks like nothing I've ever seen before in my life."
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"I've got no words for this!" he says.
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"You are privileged to be in one of the most exciting rooms on Earth at the moment," says flight director Chris Lewicki.
If all goes well, this data to be received will begin with engineering health information about the rover and be followed by images from various cameras on Opportunity.
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"Cheer!" flight director Chris Lewicki jokingly instructed his team.
The fact that telemetry has been received indicates that the rover has performed its critical deployment activities following landing. Opportunity's exact status has yet to be confirmed, however. That is still to come.
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"Earthset" has occurred -- meaning that Earth is no longer visible from landing site for tonight.
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The Mars Odyssey orbiter will fly over the landing site in about 90 minutes to relay data back to Earth.
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The U.S. now has logged five successful landings on Mars out of six attempts -- Opportunity, Spirit, Pathfinder and two Vikings. The only failure was Mars Polar Lander.
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"What a night! I mean, as the old saying goes 'it's far better to be lucky than good.' But you know the harder we work, the luckier we seem to get," O'Keefe said.
"This team is absolutely phenomenal. The very idea that no one dared dream that we could pull off batting a thousand on this. Yet this is a tremendous testimonial of how NASA can really focus on the objective and put every ounce of effort, energy, emotion and talent to an important task. This is just a truly remarkable achievement. This team is the best in the world, no doubt about it!"
0637 GMT (1:37 a.m. EST)
Both Mars Exploration Rovers -- Spirit and Opportunity -- have safely reached the Red Planet just three weeks apart. The two rovers are located half a world away from each other, having traveled 300 million miles from Earth to Mars.
Although Spirit developed a problem more than two weeks into its mission, engineers remain hopeful it can resume exploring Gusev Crater.
The Opportunity post-landing news conference will begin shortly.
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Also, they believe that Opportunity wasn't really rolling all of that time. The fluctuating indication interpreted as rolling was actually an artifact of the communications path with the craft on its side and not the vehicle still in motion.
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Next, the rover will deploy its power-generating solar panels. Then the Pancam Mast Assembly will be raised up. It can begin taking some pictures of the landing site once those events are completed. The initial images, if snapped this morning, would be relayed to Earth via the Mars Odyssey orbiter overnight.
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Here is an overview:
The system for getting each rover safely through Mars' atmosphere and onto the surface relies on an aeroshell, a parachute and airbags. The aeroshell has two parts: a heat shield that faces forward and a backshell. Both are based on designs used successfully by NASA's Viking Mars landers in 1976 and Mars Pathfinder in 1997.
The parachute is attached to the backshell and opens to about 15 meters (49 feet) in diameter. The parachute design was tested under simulated martian conditions in a large wind tunnel at NASA's Ames Research Center near Sunnyvale, Calif.
The backshell carries a deceleration meter used to determine the right moment for deploying the parachute. Solid-fuel rockets mounted on the underside of the shell reduce vertical velocity and any excessive horizontal velocity just before landing.
The airbags, based on Pathfinder's design, cushion the impact of the lander on the surface. Each of the four faces of the folded-up lander is equipped with an envelope of six airbags stitched together. Explosive gas generators rapidly inflate the airbags to a pressure of about 6900 Pascal (one pound per square inch). Each airbag has double bladders to support impact pressure and, to protect the bladders from sharp rocks, six layers of a special cloth woven from polymer fiber that is five times stronger than steel. The fiber material, Vectran, is used in the strings of archery bows and tennis racquets.
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The system has about 100 possible tones to provide information such as whether the cruise stage has separated, whether the parachute opens and whether the deceleration rate is within the expected range.
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Opportunity is poised for entering the atmosphere in about 13 minutes.
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Opportunity is currently 2,183 miles from Mars, traveling over 9,400 miles per hour.
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The next major event will be separation between the no-longer-needed cruise stage from the descent module containing the Opportunity rover. This jettison is scheduled for 11:44 p.m. EST.
Here is NASA's description of the cruise stage:
The cruise stage provides capabilities needed during the seven-month passage to Mars but not later in the mission, such as a propulsion system for trajectory correction maneuvers. Approximately 2.6 meters (8.5 feet) in diameter and 1.6 meters (5.2 feet) tall, the disc-shaped cruise stage is outfitted with solar panels and antennas on one face, and with fuel tanks and the aeroshell on the other. Around the rim sit thrusters, a star scanner and a Sun sensor.
The propulsion system uses hydrazine propellant stored in two titanium tanks. Since the the entire spacecraft spins at about 2 rotations per minute, fuel in the tanks is pushed outward toward outlets and through fuel lines to two clusters of thrusters. Each cluster has four thrusters pointing in different directions.
The star scanner and Sun sensor help the spacecraft determine its orientation. Since the rover's solar arrays are tucked away inside the aeroshell for the trip, the cruise stage needs its own for electrical energy. The arrays could generate more than 600 watts when the spacecraft was about as far from the Sun as Earth is, and generate about half that much as it nears Mars.
The cruise stage also carries a system for carrying excess heat away from the rover's computer with a pumped freon loop and rim-mounted radiators.
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Mission Control confirms that the gas generator heaters are active.
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This venting will cause the spacecraft to wobble a bit, so tiny thrusters will be used to keep the lander on course for entry.
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Jettison of the cruise stage is upcoming at 11:44 p.m. and entry into the atmosphere begins at 11:59 p.m.
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This turn was a critical event prior to Opportunity making the fiery plunge into the atmosphere by reorienting to put the heat shield facing the planet. Had the turn not occurred, the craft would burn up during entry.
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Meridiani Planum is considered one of the smoothest, flattest places on the Red Planet.
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Although Spirit's landing was completely successful, giving confidence that tonight's descent of Opportunity will have a positive outcome, project manager Pete Theisinger cautions that nothing is assured when traveling to another planet with complex machines.
"I think you need to understand what the Spirit has proven and what is has not proven. The design of the two vehicles are identical but they are separate vehicles. So the Spirit has proven the design -- this entry, descent and landing system can work. But it has not established the integrity of Opportunity," Theisinger says.
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The turn is expected to begin at 10:34 p.m. EST.
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But why explore Mars?
"The simple answer is we are going to Mars to search for life," Ed Weiler, NASA's space science chief says.
"We are going there not just to understand a science question but a basic human question that has been around since we started walking out of the caves finally and looking up into the sky -- are we alone?
"That's why we are going to Mars, that's why eventually we will send humans to Mars -- to not plant flags and put their footprints on and hit a few golf balls. We are going there to send human biologists to help us in that search for life."
The battle cry of NASA's Mars exploration program is "follow the water." The Spirit and Opportunity rovers are specifically looking for evidence of past water on the Red Planet.
"We are following the water because on Earth we find out that where ever you find water, organic material and energy you find life. So the key for the search on Mars is following the water. That will lead us if there was past life or if there is present life," Weiler says.
0235 GMT (9:35 p.m. EST Sat.)
"I appreciate that by now you realize that landing on Mars is really tough and operating on Mars is even tougher, as we found out. We warned you of that three weeks ago (at Spirit's landing).
"Some of you and probably some of us have gotten used to success after success after success. But as we've have seen, exploration is a roller coaster. We've had the early ups and now we've had a down. It seems like we're back going up again. However, I can absolutely guarantee you there will be more downs and there will be more ups with both Opportunity and Spirit.
"However, what the last few days has proven to me is that we have got the absolute best team on Earth operating these (rovers)."
Traveling from NASA Headquarters in Washington to the Jet Propulsion Laboratory for tonight's landing, Weiler thought he'd find a dark mood at JPL mission control given the ailing Spirit.
"I came here expecting to be literally at a funeral. I arrived here yesterday at 3 o'clock and things were looking pretty grim. But already last night things were looking a little bit better and then things got a lot better early this morning. There is a lesson in that."
This morning controllers were able to narrow the search for Spirit's ailment, giving officials renewed hope that the rover can resume its exploration of Gusev Crater in a couple of weeks.
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In about 90 minutes, the spacecraft performs a turn to position its heat shield facing the atmosphere. This will not only prepare for entry but also the jettison of the no-longer-needed cruise stage. Separation between the cruise stage and the descent module is expected around 11:44 p.m. EST.
0035 GMT (7:35 p.m. EST Sat.)
Before the fiery entry into the Martian atmosphere can occur, the ring-shaped cruise stage must be jettisoned from the descent module containing the Opportunity rover. This is scheduled for 11:44:46 p.m. EST.
Entry interface occurs at 11:59:46 p.m. EST as the spacecraft punches into the upper fringes of the atmosphere about 128 kilometers above the planet's surface while traveling 5.4 kilometers per second (12,000 miles per hour). The protective heat shield is designed to withstand the 2,600-degree F temperature expected from the friction of falling through the atmosphere. Peak heating will happen around 12:01:28 a.m. at an altitude of 42.6 kilometers.
With about two minutes left in the descent, at 12:03:49 a.m. and 8.9 kilometers above the ground, the craft's parachute will be deployed.
Based upon the reconstruction of data gathered during Spirit's descent and weather reports about the atmosphere above Meridiani Planum, engineers have decided to have Opportunity open its parachute slightly earlier than Spirit did.
At 12:04:19 a.m. and an altitude of 5.8 kilometers, the bottom half of the aeroshell descent module is jettisoned, exposing the lander. The top half of the shell, still riding the parachute, will lower the lander on a small tether.
Activation of the radar altimeter occurs at 5.4 kilometers above the surface at 12:04:24 a.m. The descent imaging camera system initiates at 12:05:07 a.m. at an altitude of two kilometers.
The impact-cushioning airbags surrounding the lander will inflate at 12:05:31 a.m., followed a half-second later by ignition of retro rockets on the upper shell to bring the descent speed to zero. The tether will be cut about 12 meters above the surface at 12:05:34 a.m.
The first moment of touchdown -- starting a series of bounces -- is targeted for 12:05:37 a.m. EST (0505:37 GMT).
The spacecraft is expected to bounce and roll for several minutes before coming to rest.
Mission Control hopes to receive communication "tones" from the rover throughout the entry, descent and landing.
We will be posting updates on this page all evening!
SATURDAY, JANUARY 24, 2004
2345 GMT (6:45 p.m. EST)
The cigar-shaped landing zone is 46 miles long and 4 miles wide, which is 0.001 percent of the martian surface, he said.
To guide Opportunity to its landing site, controllers had the chance to perform five Trajectory Correction Maneuvers, plus one contingency burn. But just three were needed.
"We managed to target Opportunity to the desired atmospheric entry point, which will bring us to the desired landing point, using only three Trajectory Correction Maneuvers in that 280 million mile trip from Earth to Mars.
"If you remember back to the Spirit (pre-landing) press conference, I used the analogy to playing a very long hole in golf. For Spirit, only used four shots -- four Trajectory Correction Maneuvers -- so we got a birdie. But for Opportunity we only used three, so we got an eagle. We did even better!"
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"We made good progress overnight and the rover has been upgraded from critical to serious. We have a working hypothesis we are pursuing that is consistent with many of the observables and consistent with operations that we performed on the vehicle last night. It involves the flash memory on the vehicle and the software used to communicate with that memory.
"The processor on Spirit has three kinds of memory:
"There is the random access memory just like the memory in your computer, which is used basically in a real-time mode. And that memory is volatile, so when we turn off the rover at night that memory goes away.
"We have flash memory. That memory is just like the memory in a digital camera. It can also be read to and written from easily. But it has non-volatile characteristics -- the information that is stored there stays overnight even if the vehicle is powered down.
"And then we have we call double EPROM, which is electrically-programmable memory. That is more difficult to write to and read from, and we use that to store part of the flight software image.
"The vehicle normally uses the flash memory mostly for the storage and retrieval of engineering and the scientific telemetry. The software has to communicate with the flash memory -- has to open up files, establish file directories, close files in that flash memory. That process has to work correctly.
"We are capable of operating the vehicle without going to the flash memory in what we call a 'cripple mode.' That is name we have chosen -- you should not read too much into that. That basically tells the flight software that when it boots up, it should operate with its file directory out of the random access memory rather than the flash memory. That would avoid any issues that we might have with either the flash memory itself or the flight software that is used to write to it.
"Let me talk about the chronology of what happened in the last 24 hours. If you recall when we last talked at yesterday's press conference, we were attempting to shut down the vehicle because the batteries were becoming depleted. We had an apparent inability to shut down the vehicle last night, yesterday at the end of the Mars day, which is about the time of the press conference at 9 a.m. Pacific. That was in fact confirmed because later we had a UHF communications session with Odyssey where we got 73 megabits of data, mostly fill or garbage data, although we did get some fault data, some current, some 14 hours old.
"We did not know but thought we might go into low-power overnight if the batteries were fully depleted. When came up this morning we looked for the 9:30 Mars time communications window and it was not there, indicating, we thought, that we had gone into low-power. That would cause the vehicle to come up at 11 o'clock and tell us that.
"We, just prior to 11 o'clock, sent a command to the vehicle that said 'go into this cripple mode.' That is only done at the next reset, so then we sent a command to the vehicle that said 'and reset' in order to do that. And we timed it so that when the 11 o'clock session would start, we would begin to get that session at 10 bits per second indicating we'd gone into low-power. When the commands reached the spacecraft light-time away, it would send us into cripple mode, reset the computer and we would come up in the mode. And in fact that is precisely what happened.
"At that point, we commanded a one-hour communications session at 120 bits per second. That communications session happened as planned.
"The progressive set of resets that we were getting into every hour did not reoccur, leading us to conclude that our hypothesis is largely correct -- that is there is something involved in the flight software that talks to the flash memory that's causing this difficulty.
"Why that might cause us difficulty is because when the spacecraft first wakes up it needs to communicate with the flash memory to establish a file structure and when it goes to sleep and shuts down, just like you shut down your computer at home, it needs to go out to that memory and close all of those files and clean everything up. If it is unable to do that, it would not complete those tasks appropriately and will basically reset itself and not shut down.
"In the midst of that 120 bits per second, one-hour session, we decided to shut down the vehicle in order to replenish the batteries. We commanded the shutdown just prior to the end of the communications session so that we would see the communications session terminate early if we were able to operate it correctly. That happened. And we sent two post-shutdown beeps, which we expect not to hear if it is asleep but we would hear if it was not asleep, and we did not get those, once again confirming that the vehicle to the best of our ability to determine is now sleeping on Mars.
"We also yesterday as part of the command sessions during this period of time terminated tonight's UHF passes and reset the uploss timer. The uploss timer is a set of fault code that go into play when the vehicle thinks it has a communications problem and causes some things to switch state and we didn't want to get into that if we could avoid it. Both of those were confirmed to be successful.
"So we have a vehicle that is stable now in power and thermal. We have a working hypothesis that we have confirmed. The fault protection to the best of our estimation has worked as designed. It took us a lot to figure out what was going on, but we think everything has worked in the fault protection as we expected it to do.
"We have a go-forward plan. The cripple mode, which we can use every day, needs to be re-established every day because it loses the memory that that's the way it should start up. So every morning we will need to start up in cripple mode, so we need to establish an operational way of doing that every day for the next few sols (Mars days).
"We need to establish a high-rate link in order to be able to get much more data back, particularly if we want to read out the flash memory and determine what has happened. What we will plan to do is likely to use the Odyssey afternoon relay pass for that purpose prior to the afternoon shutdown.
"We need to then establish the contents of flash to find out what happened and then we need to move forward with the diagnosis and recovery of the vehicle capability based upon what we find there.
"Remember that this was all kicked off by Sequence 2502. That was the sequence that was using the elevation motor in the mast failing out, failing to complete (on Wednesday). We still do not know the details of why that happened and we need to do that.
"The mission consequences of this are uncertain at the present time. But I think that we feel that we probably have more capability left in the vehicle that we can establish than the worst-case scenarios by quite a bit. We still see a couple of weeks to determine what had happened and to rebuild our confidence into what is working on the vehicle and to get back closer to routine operations. I think we are probably like three weeks away from driving, I am guessing.
"The team will begin to go into double-shift operations probably a day or so after Opportunity's landing where we have a re-plan period and then an operational period as we begin to work through the forensics of this.
"But this is a very good news. We've established an ability to communicate with the vehicle reliably, we've established that in fact we do have controllability of the vehicle, can establish a good power and thermal state, our working hypothesis is one that we can work around with significant measure if it turns out our working hypothesis is correct. So a good day for an Opportunity landing."
2011 GMT (3:11 p.m. EST)
"We are in great shape," Opportunity mission manager Jim Erickson says. The vehicle is properly oriented with its solar panels facing the Sun and communications antenna package in view of Earth.
The chance to do a last-minute trajectory correction maneuver today has been cancelled. The spacecraft is on the proper track with no need for adjustment, officials report.
2003 GMT (3:03 p.m. EST)
Engineers are working on a theory that there is a problem between the flight software and the rover's flash memory.
We'll post Theisinger's briefing as soon as possible.
1900 GMT (2:00 p.m. EST)
We will update this page as information develops.
0400 GMT (11:00 p.m. EST Fri.)
Opportunity's touchdown at Meridiani Planum -- a smooth, flat plain near the equator halfway around the planet from Spirit's Gusev Crater landing site -- is scheduled for 12:05 a.m. EST (0505 GMT).
The landing site for Opportunity was selected because scientists believe there is an Oklahoma-sized area of gray hematite, a mineral that usually forms in the presence of water.
"Gray hematite is a mineral indicator of past water. It is not always associated with water, but it often is," said Joy Crisp, project scientist for the Mars Exploration Rover project.
The rover will search for the material to determine if the hematite layer comes from sediments of an ancient ocean, from volcanic deposits altered by hot water, or from other environmental conditions in the planet's distant past.
"Hematite forms in a number of different ways on Earth but most of them involve the action of liquid water," added Steve Squyres, the rovers' principal investigator. "So you can think of the hematite mineral signatures being kind of a beacon that's saying to us, 'hey, water may have been here.' Now we don't know how it formed, it could have been a hydrothermal system, could have been a lake, we're not sure. But it says, mineralogically, water."
Opportunity carries the same set of science tools as Spirit -- multiple cameras, a rock-grinding device and sophisticated instruments to determine the composition of soil and rock samples.
"We want to know if the grains of hematite appear to be rounded and cemented together by the action of liquid water or if they're crystals that grew from a volcanic melt. Is the hematite in layers, which would suggest that it was laid down by water, or in veins in the rock, which would be more characteristic of water having flowed through the rocks," Crisp wonders.
NASA's orbiting Mars Global Surveyor discovered a couple of years ago that Meridiani Planum featured gray hematite, prompting researchers to send a rover to the locale.
"The area where we are going has 10 to 15 percent gray hematite. What are the other materials found with the hematite? Clays and carbonates would indicate there had been water in the area. If the area had been volcanic, you would expect to see other types of minerals like olivine and pyroxene," Crisp says.
"We're very interested to know if this region could have been like Yellowstone, with hot springs, so we'll be looking to see if there are other minerals in the area such as those at Yellowstone."
The battle cry of NASA's Mars exploration program is "follow the water." Proving that Mars once had liquid water would help to determine if the planet could have supported life long ago.
"Knowing just how the hematite on Mars was formed will help us characterize the past environment and determine whether that environment was favorable for life. One big question, of course, is whether life ever started on Mars. This mission probably won't tell us that, but it may well lead to future mission that can answer that question."
We will provide live updates on this page throughout the landing!
0330 GMT (10:30 p.m. EST Fri.)
"Shortly before (3 p.m. EST), controllers were surprised to receive a relay of data from Spirit via the Mars Odyssey orbiter. Spirit sent 73 megabits at a rate of 128 kilobits per second. The transmission included power subsystem engineering data, no science data, and several frames of 'fill data.' Fill data are sets of intentionally random numbers that do not provide information," NASA officials said.
"Spirit had not communicated successfully through Odyssey since the rover's communications difficulties began on Wednesday."
FRIDAY, JANUARY 23, 2004
Engineers successfully coaxed the rover to beam back limited engineering data during two brief communications sessions and they were relieved to discover the spacecraft's power system was providing the necessary life support. But Spirit's state of mind was clearly -- and unusually -- different in both sessions, ruling out any simple explanations for what might have gone wrong.
Read full story.
1945 GMT (2:45 p.m. EST)
"We do not know to what extent we can restore functionality to the system because we don't know what's broke. We don't know what started this chain of events. I think, personally, that is a sequence of things. And we don't know, therefore, the consequences of that.
"I think it is difficult, at this very preliminary stage, to assume that we did not have some type of hardware event that caused this to start. Therefore, we don't know to what extent we can work around that hardware event and to what extent we can get the software to ignore that hardware event, if that is what we eventually have to do.
"So we have a long way to go here with the patient in 'intensive care.' But we have been able to establish that we can command it, and we have been able to establish that it can give us information, and we have been able to establish that the power system is good and we are thermally OK. Those are all very, very, very important pieces of information and state.
"We are a long, long, long way from being done here. But we do have serious problems and our ability to eventually work around them is unknown.
"I'm trying to tell you do not to expect a big sea change in either knowledge or theory in the next several days because this is a very complex problem and we have very limited visibility."
1930 GMT (2:30 p.m. EST)
"The software is in X-band fault mode. We surmise it got there because of some problem with the high-gain antenna pointing, and that is why the second high-gain antenna pass on Wednesday did not work. It gives us a little bit of a tale-tell for what is going on with the processor now.
"But as I pointed out to you, the flight software is not functioning normally. The two times we have gone and communicated with the system, we have gotten different flight software behaviors. Therefore we do not have assurance the next time we go and ask for it we will get either one of those two behaviors or perhaps a third behavior.
"We are trying to look at those responses to determine 'ok, how come it's behaving that way? And how come when we boot up it doesn't get better?' Those are the kinds of questions we are raising at the moment.
"We have quite a bit of information but clearly not as much as you would like."
We will have a complete story wrapping up the news conference as soon as possible.
1905 GMT (2:05 p.m. EST)
This "path" of Spirit's landing has left "marks" on Mars as seen by the orbiting Mars Global Surveyor and Spirit's Descent Image Motion Estimation System camera. See the image here.
1855 GMT (1:55 p.m. EST)
"We have been able to command Spirit and we have gotten limited data in return. The flight software is not behaving normally.
"I would like to go into some details of the chronology of events that have happened since I talked to you yesterday.
"When I left here yesterday there was preliminary indication that a request for an acknowledgement sent to the spacecraft at what would have been an emergency or fault command rate was received and acknowledged from the spacecraft -- and that was correct. The spacecraft did see us yesterday.
"We attempted to command the spacecraft to send us telemetry yesterday. We were very late in the day and on top of a UHF command session, and that command did not work for what we believe were those reasons.
"This morning, we sent an early beep to the spacecraft and did not get a response. As we were preparing to send a second, the spacecraft talked to us. We got very fractional frames and then moved very quickly to ask it to speak to us for 30 minutes at 120 bits per second. We got 20 minutes of transmission in that occasion, which was a single frame of engineering data repeated.
"Then we repeated that full sequence of events and we got about 15 minutes of engineering data at 120 bits per second where the frames were updated for 15 minutes and then for the second 15 minutes we had nothing but fill data.
"The spacecraft attempted a short communication window at the end of the day, which ended.
"The spacecraft has been in a processor reset loop of some type, mostly since Wednesday, we believe, where the processor wakes up, loads the flight software, uncovers a condition that would cause it to reset. But the processor doesn't do that immediately. It waits for a period of time -- at the beginning of the day it waits for 15 minutes twice and then for the rest of the day it waits for an hour -- and then it resets and comes back up.
"The indications we have on two occasions is that the thing that causes the reset is not always perceived to be the same. We are confused by that, but that's the facts as we presume them to be right now.
"We know that the sequence which began on Wednesday morning to do some calibration of one of the Mini-TES motors, that sequence did not run to completion. And we know that the spacecraft believes it is now in an X-band fault condition, which can be caused by a large number of things, but one of them could be the inability to move the high-gain antenna.
"If you recall, we did know as of 1 o'clock Mars Time on Wednesday that the spacecraft did not believe itself to be in a fault condition, although it could be having problems. We know that because we tried this beep at 31.25 (bits per second) that day and it worked. That's not a rate we would expect if the spacecraft thought it was a fault condition.
"The team is basically taking the data it had this morning, as collected, and moving forward and analyzing what they know and preparing a plan of action for tomorrow and for the days following. We believe, based upon everything we know right now, that we can sustain the current state of the spacecraft -- from a health standpoint -- for a substantial, perhaps indefinite amount of time. There is no indication that we have an imminent power problem or thermal issue. There's indications that (the spacecraft has) not been going to sleep at night like we expected -- that we have been up for a lot or most of both nights -- and we are looking at what things could cause that to take place.
"An anomaly team has been formed, completely separate from the Opportunity team. They will working a schedule that will look like 0500 Mars Time to about 1500 Mars Time. So they are going to synch up with the Spirit's day. So that means tonight they will be coming in about midnight. The first part of that will be kind of a re-examination of the data, whatever they have been able to collect and analyze in the period of time and kind of a go-forward plan for the day. They will be on consoles for the day and then there will be a post-day, couple-hour meeting of what they know and to work on theories.
"I expect this to go on in this mode for several days of talking to the spacecraft, gathering more data, winnowing out theories, testing those theories against spacecraft observables and continuing that process.
"I think we should expect that we will not be restoring functionality to Spirit for a significant period of time -- I think many days, perhaps a couple of weeks -- even in the best of circumstances, from what we see today.
"Now, we have Opportunity coming in tomorrow night. We have the lander passivation sequence is going to start running tonight. We have made the appropriate personnel and staffing adjustments to make sure we have completely severed the efforts and that we can sustain Opportunity's (entry, descent and landing).
"It is likely, depending upon what happens in the next 48 to 72 hours, that we may not continue the Opportunity impact-to-egress with the same pace and dispatch that we did on Spirit. It depends on if we can get Opportunity to a defined, sustainable state on the ground and we can continue to make progress against Spirit with those assets, we will likely do that and try and continue to make progress on Spirit to get it back to some level of functionality. That's a decision the project will make in consultation with management as we take the temperature of this thing over the next couple of days."
1807 GMT (1:07 p.m. EST)
An anomaly team has been formed to continue gathering data from the rover and narrow the possible causes of the situation.
Theisinger says the rover should be able to sustain its health for an indefinite amount of time. He also noted that restoring Spirit to normal operations could take a couple of weeks.
1700 GMT (12:00 p.m. EST)
1512 GMT (10:12 a.m. EST)
"The spacecraft sent limited data in a proper response to a ground command, and we're planning for commanding further communication sessions later today," said project manager Pete Theisinger.
Officials have not yet said what the data indicated or other details.
The data was received in a communication session that began at 8:26 a.m. EST (1326 GMT) and lasted 20 minutes at a data rate of 120 bits per second.
JPL says it sent the command to the rover at 8:02 a.m. EST (1302 GMT) via the Deep Space Network complex in Spain telling Spirit to begin transmitting.
Spirit stopped sending scientific and engineering health data on Wednesday, then missed several scheduled communications sessions. A heart beat "beep" was received yesterday confirming at Spirit could hear Earth and responded with the simple tone. A signal was also detected earlier this morning, prior to the retrieval of data.
1449 GMT (9:49 a.m. EST)
"The transmissions came during a communication window about 90 minutes after Spirit woke up for the morning on Mars. The signal lasted for 10 minutes at a data rate of 10 bits per second," the Jet Propulsion Laboratory announced.
Mission Control plans to issue commands to Spirit seeking additional data from the spacecraft during the subsequent few hours.
A news conference is planned for 1 p.m. EST today.
0545 GMT (12:45 a.m. EST)
Mission Control is gearing up to make direct Earth-to-Mars contact with the rover after the Sun rises at the Gusev Crater. Efforts are expected to begin around 3 a.m. Pacific time (6 a.m. EST; 1100 GMT) this morning. Using a communications channel that successfully received a beeping reply from the rover on Thursday, engineers hope they can get Spirit to transmit some data about its health.
Meanwhile, NASA's Mars scientist Jim Garvin appeared on The Late Show with David Letterman tonight, telling the CBS audience about exploration of the Red Planet and showing off pictures taken by Spirit.
"But the thing is busted now, isn't it?" Dave quipped.
"Well not exactly, no," Jim replied.
"You haven't heard from it in about a day, right?" Dave asked.
"We did hear from it (on Thursday). We've gotten a heart beat, and the rover now is in a special mode where it is protecting itself from the extremely cold environment on Mars. We're now communicating with it at very-low rate to tell it how to wake itself back up," Jim explained.
"I heard it was just transmitting, like Paul said, gibberish. You were getting back gibberish and were concerned there were problems with the hardware or software on the rover itself," Dave said.
"Well Dave, we have the best women and men trying to figure out what state it is in now. But we know it called home, we have this little heart beat -- beep, beep, beep -- and now we are going to try to diagnose the problem while we get ready for Opportunity to land early Sunday morning," Jim responded.
"So I guess calling AAA is out of the question?" Dave joked.
"That is true," Jim confirmed!
THURSDAY, JANUARY 22, 2004
"We are cautiously encouraged," JPL director Charles Elachi said on NASA Television a short time ago. "We are still concerned until we understand the problem and we address it."
Spirit abruptly stopped relaying its scientific and health data to Earth on Wednesday, sending a streak of fear through Mission Control when the rover went silent.
But earlier today, a signal was sent from Earth to Mars and Spirit responded with a simple tone.
"We did send a command to the spacecraft on a specific channel and we got a response back basically saying 'yeah, I am here' and we got exactly what we expected from it. So that gave us the indication, because it is on that specific channel that we got the response, is that the spacecraft is in safe-mode. Something kind of went wrong and it put itself into a safe-mode," Elachi said.
"The way we set the spacecraft is that if there is something abnormal, it goes into a certain safe-mode. The indication when we linked and it responded positively is that it is most likely in a certain safe-mode."
Controllers are now preparing for the next step in sorting out the problem and bringing Spirit back to useful life.
"We had to team go home and rest. At 5 o'clock tonight (8 p.m. EST; 0100 GMT) they come back and work a plan for the next communication opportunity which occurs at 3 a.m. Pacific time tomorrow morning (6 a.m. EST; 1100 GMT). We will be using the same channel that we used earlier this morning and we got the positive response."
Instead of asking for just a simple tone reply, controllers will instruct Spirit to play back some of its engineering data.
"We want some of its memory so we can do a diagnostic and understand what has happened, what are the corrective actions that need to be done and how do we bring it carefully and thoughtfully to its normal operational mode."
That direct Earth-to-Mars link occurs after Mars Global Surveyor and Mars Odyssey craft make overnight flights above the landing site. The orbiters will be in "listen-only" modes and not sending commands to Spirit. As a result, Elachi said he doesn't expect to hear anything from the rover during the passes if Spirit is in safe-mode.
Engineers are delving through the possible reasons that triggered Spirit to stop talking yesterday. Thus far, it is unknown exactly what caused the situation.
"There could be a possibility of some problem with the software in the spacecraft, similar to what happens in your computer," Elachi cited as one of many potential issues.
Options available to the team to fix the problem include correcting a software glitch, rebooting the entire spacecraft or, if it is a hardware failure, developing a plan to work around the faulty part.
"We have a very valuable asset up there that we did a lot of hard work to get it there safely. The public is all excited about it. So we need to do things methodically and carefully. There is nothing that is rushing us to actually go and do something immediately -- the spacecraft has power, the temperature seems to be appropriate," Elachi said.
"In any exploration you do, you always get anxious moments. Things had been working so well. When you are doing something which is 100 million miles away, roving on a different planet, there are going to be some anomalies or going to be some problems.
"So the key thing that is important is to stay calm, thoughtful and careful and not to react too quickly to when a problem actually occurs because sometimes you can do more harm than good by reacting too quick.
"It is a pretty smart machine that we have up there and the key thing that we are going to do next is to communicate with it tomorrow morning and ask it to send us some data down so we can do a diagnostic of what's the problem," Elachi said.
2100 GMT (4:00 p.m. EST)
Efforts to determine the cause of communications troubles with the rover are continuing. Engineers hope to get actual telemetry from Spirit to diagnose the rover's problem.
A pair of communication relay sessions are available tonight -- the first using Mars Global Surveyor at 10:10 p.m. EST; to be followed by Mars Odyssey's flight over the Gusev Crater landing site at 1:35 a.m. EST.
Direct communications between Spirit and antennas of NASA's Deep Space Network on Earth could resume at about 6 a.m. EST Friday, officials report.
1810 GMT (1:10 p.m. EST)
"At yesterday's press conference, we reported to you that we had had some communications issues with the rover, which we thought at the time was due to weather at the Canberra station and (Deep Space Network) configuration issues.
"We now know we have had a very serious anomaly on the vehicle, and our ability to determine exactly what has happened has been limited by our inability to receive telemetry from the vehicle, basically the last 12 hours or so.
"Let me kind of describe what the sequence of events have been.
"Yesterday afternoon, local solar time on Mars, actually about 1 o'clock, we sent to the vehicle at a command rate of 31.25 bits per second a sequence. We activated that sequence by command and we received a beacon response that indicated that we vehicle had received that sequence and that it was activating that sequence.
"After that time, a scheduled high-gain antenna pass at 2 o'clock in the afternoon, roughly, local solar time on Mars, did not occur.
"The 4:30 p.m. afternoon Mars Odyssey afternoon pass did not occur in the sense there was no indication by Odyssey that they received a UHF transmission.
"Last night, we had about a 1:30-2 a.m. Mars Global Surveyor pass and it was anomalous in the sense that Mars Global Surveyor believes it saw UHF transmission in its receiver telemetry but there was no data in the packets and the period of time that it believed it saw UHF telemetry was very, very short -- about two-and-a-half minutes compared to 12- or 13-minute overflight.
"The 4 a.m. Odyssey pass received no data, and this morning we did not have a direct-to-Earth link session -- we did not receive data on the normal direct-to-Earth session, nor did we receive data on what would have been a fault session at 11 a.m., which is where the spacecraft has entered fault mode, knows that, and chooses to communicate with us at a different time.
"The team has been meeting this morning and through the night working on a set of postulated fault scenarios. There is no one single fault that explains all the observables -- that we know of at the present time that we can conceive.
"We have been working on fault scenarios, we have been developing to-do lists. We have run yesterday's sequences through the test-bed (on Earth) with no anomalous results. So that is kind of our current state of knowledge."
At the end of the news conference, mission manager Jennifer Trosper came into the room and delivered an update to deputy project manager Richard Cook sitting at the briefing desk.
"If the spacecraft believes it's in a fault mode, its command rate should be 7.8 bits per second. We sent a beep today, this morning, about the time that we came down here to talk to you at 7.8. We sent a command that says if you get this send us a beep. And I'm told from Richard that Jennifer came down here to tell us that they think they got it," Theisinger said.
"That would tell us that the spacecraft thinks it's in the fault side of the tree some how for some reason. That would mean that we've got positive power, some elements of the software is working, once again the X-band system is working, the SSPA, the multi-space transponder, all that stuff is working so that would be more information -- good news. We need to confirm that. Data off the DSN sometimes needs double-checking. We'll let you know if that's for sure."
1750 GMT (12:50 p.m. EST)
1703 GMT (12:03 p.m. EST)
No data has been received from the Mars Exploration Rover Spirit during several scheduled sessions over the past day, NASA says. Mars Global Surveyor received only a tone from the rover overnight but no telemetry.
Mission Control has launched recovery efforts to reestablish contact with the rover at Gusev Crater.
Details to follow!
1650 GMT (11:50 a.m. EST)
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0140 GMT (8:40 p.m. EST Wed.)
"Ground controllers were able to send commands to the Mars Exploration Rover Spirit early Wednesday and received a simple signal acknowledging that the rover heard them, but they did not receive expected scientific and engineering data during scheduled communication passes during the rest of that martian day," the Jet Propulsion Laboratory said in a statement.
"Project managers have not yet determined the cause, but similar events occurred several times during the Mars Pathfinder mission. The team is examining a number of different scenarios, some of which would be resolved when the rover wakes up after powering down at the end of the martian day (around midday Pacific time Wednesday).
"The next opportunity to hear from the vehicle is when the rover may attempt to communicate with the Mars Global Surveyor orbiter at about 8:30 p.m. Pacific time Wednesday night (11:30 p.m. EST; 0430 GMT). A second communication opportunity may occur about two hours later during a relay pass via the Mars Odyssey orbiter. If necessary, the flight team will take additional recovery steps early Thursday morning (the morning of sol 19 on Mars) when the rover wakes up and can communicate directly with Earth."
NASA says the next update on the rover's status will be announced at the daily news conference scheduled for Thursday at 9 a.m. Pacific time (12 p.m. EST; 1700 GMT).
WEDNESDAY, JANUARY 21, 2004
The rainy weather at the Deep Space Network communications station in Canberra hampered the transmission of commands from Earth to the Spirit rover today.
"This is something that is kind of typical of spacecraft operations where there are days when it rains and things don't quite go the way you expect," mission manager Jennifer Trosper said. "So not a lot of science was done today, but the rover is in a very safe state. It's healthy."
The Rock Abrasion Tool grinding of "Adirondack" has been pushed back until at least tomorrow.
"When the rover woke up this morning we were actually over the Deep Space Network station in Canberra, Australia, because that was the part of Earth pointed at Mars at the time. There was lightning and there was rain and there was a thunderstorm in Canberra," Trosper told reporters at today's Spirit news conference.
"In the morning time frame -- Local Solar Time -- at the Gusev site between about 9 and 9:45 a.m. is an important time frame for us to take all of the work we did overnight, all the of sequences we built, the commands for the rover and send those. We transmit them to the rover. And then (Spirit) will start to act on those at about 9:45 Local Solar Time.
"As a result of the rain in Canberra today, the signal strengths were not able to be received by the rover. So we weren't able to transmit those commands to the rover. It received a weak signal from Earth because of the rain, so it actually didn't get all of data we wanted it to get. As a result, the rover did exactly what it was supposed to do and it continued to run yesterday's master sequence, which takes care of the rover in terms of keeping it awake during the day and continues to do communications."
A UHF communications session with the orbiting Mars Odyssey spacecraft was expected early this afternoon (Eastern Time).
"Depending on what we see in the UHF pass, it is possible we will wait to get all the data we need before we actually move on with the RAT'ing activities," Trosper said. "It is possible that we would RAT tomorrow, it is also possible that we would wait one more day to RAT to make sure we understand all of the things that executed and didn't execute on the spacecraft."
1803 GMT (1:03 p.m. EST)
The view was taken by Spirit's panoramic camera on Sol 16 showing the rover's landing site, the Columbia Memorial Station, at Gusev Crater.
Data from the panoramic camera's green, blue and infrared filters were combined to create this approximate true color image.
TUESDAY, JANUARY 20, 2004
1755 GMT (12:55 p.m. EST)
The first activity was testing the "contact sensors" on the arm's RAT -- rock abrasion tool. The RAT could be used tomorrow to grind into the rock, but science team members are still debating whether to use the tool on this particular rock.
The arm was then used to snap microscopic images of the rock before switching to the Alpha Particle X-Ray Spectrometer instrument to study Adirondack's elemental composition. The APXS data collection will be completed shortly, allowing the Mossbauer Spectrometer to begin studying the rock overnight to look for iron-bearing minerals.
Officials report all continues to go well for Spirit and its exploration of the Gusev Crater.
MONDAY, JANUARY 19, 2004
NASA's Spirit rover has successfully driven to its first target on Mars, a football-sized rock that scientists have dubbed Adirondack.
The Mars Exploration Rover flight team at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., plans to send commands to Spirit early Tuesday to examine Adirondack with a microscope and two instruments that reveal the composition of rocks, said JPL's Dr. Mark Adler, Spirit mission manager.
The instruments are the Mossbauer spectrometer and the alpha particle X-ray spectrometer.
Spirit successfully rolled off the lander and onto the martian surface last Thursday. To make the drive to Adirondack, the rover turned 40 degrees in short arcs totaling 95 centimeters (3.1 feet). It then turned in place to face the target rock and drove four short moves straightforward totaling 1.9 meters (6.2 feet). The moves covered a span of 30 minutes on Sunday, though most of that was sitting still and taking pictures between moves. The total amount of time when Spirit was actually moving was about two minutes.
"These are the sorts of baby steps we're taking," said JPL's Dr. Eddie Tunstel, rover mobility engineer.
"The drive was designed for two purposes, one of which was to get to the rock," Tunstel said. "From the mobility engineers' standpoint, this drive was geared to testing out how we do drives on this new surface." Gathering new information such as how much the wheels slip in the martian soil will give the team confidence for more ambitious drives in future weeks and months.
"Adirondack is now about one foot (30 centimeters) in front of the front wheels," he said.
Scientists chose Adirondack to be Spirit's first target rock rather than another rock, called Sashimi, that would have been a shorter, straight-ahead drive. Rocks are time capsules containing evidence of the environmental conditions of the past, said Dr. Dave Des Marais, a rover science-team member from NASA Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif. "We needed to decide which of these time capsules to open."
Sashimi appears dustier than Adirondack. The dust layer could obscure good observations of the rock's surface, which may give information about chemical changes and other weathering from environmental conditions affecting the rock since its surface was fresh. Also, Sashimi is more pitted than Adirondack. That makes it a poorer candidate for the rover's rock abrasion tool, which scrapes away a rock's surface for a view of the interior evidence about environmental conditions when the rock first formed. Adirondack has a "nice, flat surface" well suited to trying out the rover's tools on their first martian rock, Des Marais said.
"The hypothesis is that this is a volcanic rock, but we'll test that hypothesis," he said.
Spirit arrived at Mars Jan. 3 (EST and PST; Jan. 4 Universal Time) after a seven-month journey. In coming weeks and months, according to plans, it will be exploring for clues in rocks and soil to decipher whether the past environment in Gusev Crater was ever watery and possibly suitable to sustain life.
Spirit's twin Mars Exploration Rover, Opportunity, will reach Mars on Jan. 25 (EST and Universal Time; 9:05 p.m., Jan. 24, PST) to begin a similar examination of a site on the opposite side of the planet from Gusev Crater.
1810 GMT (1:10 p.m. EST)
The rover then made a short drive to a pyramid-shaped rock. Two other rocks in front of the lander base -- dubbed "Sushi" and "Sashimi" -- were passed up by scientists.
1650 GMT (11:50 a.m. EST)
FRIDAY, JANUARY 16, 2004
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THURSDAY, JANUARY 15, 2004
1257 GMT (7:57 a.m. EST)
The move took approximately 78 seconds, ending with the back of the rover about 2.6 feet away from the lander egress ramp, officials report.
"It's as if we get to drive a nice sports car, but in the end we're just the valets who bring it around to the front and give the keys to the science team," says flight director Chris Lewicki.
That science team will be making daily decisions about where to send Spirit as the roving robot geologist uses its instruments to study rocks, the Martian soil and atmosphere. Starting late tonight (Earth time) the rover's science arm will be checked out.
1101 GMT (6:01 a.m. EST)
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0957 GMT (4:57 a.m. EST)
"Sounds like it was a nice trip. All we need now are the pictures!" flight director Chris Lewicki told his team in Mission Control as engineering data from the rover was received on Earth. A rear-facing camera on Spirit should have snapped a view of the lander. It should be available shortly.
The rover is ready to embark on its three-month expedition to explore the Gusev Crater for evidence of past water.
0953 GMT (4:53 a.m. EST)
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WEDNESDAY, JANUARY 14, 2004
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TUESDAY, JANUARY 13, 2004
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MONDAY, JANUARY 12, 2004
1720 GMT (12:20 p.m. EST)
Later tonight, the final umbilical between the lander base and Spirit will be severed. The rover then performs the first of three turns to reach the egress path. The drive to the surface is still scheduled for Wednesday night/Thursday morning.
SUNDAY, JANUARY 11, 2004
1725 GMT (12:25 p.m. EST)
Sol 9 that begins tonight (Earth time) will be dedicated to science activities.
On Monday night, the final cable between the lander and rover -- a power and communications umbilical -- will be cut. Spirit then will perform the first of three turns on the lander to reach an alternate driveway. This first turn will be about 45 degrees as the rover moves from a southward heading to the lander egress path facing northwest. The south path is partially blocked by an airbag that prevents a straight drive to the surface.
Tuesday night will see two more turns on the lander -- to 95 degrees and then to the final 115-120 degree position. After every turn the rover's hazard cameras will snap views to ensure there are no problems before continuing.
Spirit's drive off the lander has been pushed back one day to Wednesday night/Thursday morning -- Sol 12. This is a delay to the schedule announced yesterday. Officials caution that activities could be postponed further depending on how well the turns go and the outcome of engineering testing on Earth.
At the Jet Propulsion Laboratory's landing site mockup, a dress rehearsal is planned today to practice the procedures that Spirit will use.
SATURDAY, JANUARY 10, 2004
On any other day, that would be a major milestone. But Wednesday morning also is the day President Bush is expected to announce a new space initiative that would end shuttle operations by 2010 and send astronauts to the moon by the middle of the next decade. The ultimate goal is to expand humanity's exploration of the solar system to Mars.
Read our full story.
1830 GMT (1:30 p.m. EST)
The lift mechanism used previously to raise up the rover was retracted back into the lander overnight. Also, Spirit's rear wheels were deployed. The rover is now standing on its six wheels, almost ready to drive on the Martian surface.
On the upcoming workday that begins tonight (Earth time), the middle wheels will be released from the lander and the moveable arm holding science instruments will be unlocked from its launch position and put into the "stowed" position for exiting the lander.
On the Sunday night workday, the final cable line running from the lander to Spirit will be severed -- at which point the base and rover will be separated. The lander becomes a dead platform.
With a puffed up airbag still hampering the forward driveway, engineers have done a test with a model on Earth to determine what would happen if Spirit took that path. The demonstration revealed that there was a chance the left-rear solar panel could brush the bag during the driveoff.
As a result, Spirit will make a 120-degree turn on the lander -- probably on Monday night -- to reach a different exit path. The rover is currently facing south and will turn to head toward the northwest.
The big moment of rolling onto the surface is expected Tuesday night/Wednesday morning.
Yesterday, officials were estimating the lander egress would occur late next week. But it now appears Tuesday night is achievable.
FRIDAY, JANUARY 9, 2004
Mission manager Matt Wallace says Spirit will drive off the lander late next week.
During the workday that begins tonight, the rest of the stand-up procedures will be performed -- retracting the lift mechanism and deploying the rear wheels.
1730 GMT (12:30 p.m. EST)
A closer view of the landscape is available here.
1707 GMT (12:07 p.m. EST)
The deflated airbag partially blocking the front exit from the lander is also visible.
THURSDAY, JANUARY 8, 2004
1750 GMT (12:50 p.m. EST)
The bag in question is hampering the desired forward route off the lander for Spirit. If the pathway can't be cleared, the rover could turn on the lander and roll off another direction.
Meanwhile, controllers plan to perform the first two portions of the rover's stand up procedures on Sol 6. Step one will be raising the rover's body with a lift mechanism. Step two will see the two front wheels -- stowed for launched -- finally deployed.
Image and science collections will continue on the upcoming day.
The next mission update news conference is planned for tomorrow.
1708 GMT (12:08 p.m. EST)
The caption: This latest color "postcard from Mars," taken on Sol 5 by the panoramic camera on the Mars Exploration Rover Spirit, looks to the north. The apparent slope of the horizon is due to the several-degree tilt of the lander deck.
On the left, the circular topographic feature dubbed Sleepy Hollow can be seen along with dark markings that may be surface disturbances caused by the airbag-encased lander as it bounced and rolled to rest. A dust-coated airbag is prominent in the foreground, and a dune-like object that has piqued the interest of the science team with its dark, possibly armored top coating, can be seen on the right.
Read our earlier Mission Status Center coverage.