petemar1 at perlmonk.org
Sun Jan 4 02:43:56 CST 2004
U.S. Rover Lands on Mars After Daring Plunge
Sun January 04, 2004 01:40 AM ET
By Dan Whitcomb and Gina Keating
PASADENA, Calif. (Reuters) - The U.S. spacecraft carrying a robotic explorer
designed to search for signs of life on Mars arrived safely on Saturday,
capping seven months of space travel and "six minutes of hell" while
plunging through the Martian atmosphere.
A lander carrying the Spirit rover made what NASA officials called a
textbook touch-down in a huge impact crater, bouncing and rolling across the
bleak landscape while cushioned by giant airbags.
Project scientists at the space agency's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in
Pasadena, California, broke into wild cheers when the lander sent a signal
back to Earth telling them it had survived a final six-minute plummet to the
NASA Administrator Sean O'Keefe, on hand for what was a critical moment for
his agency, popped champagne at a post-landing press briefing. Mars has
proven a tough challenge for NASA, which lost two spacecraft there in 1998
and 1999, and officials said more than half of man's missions to the red
planet have failed.
"This is a big night for NASA -- we're back," O'Keefe declared. "I'm very,
very proud of this team and we're on Mars. This is an absolutely incredible
The presence of O'Keefe made clear that the $820 million mission's success
was of utmost importance to the U.S. space agency and he called it a
"double-header" following the successful Stardust mission on Friday.
That craft intercepted a comet and gathered particles in a first that could
offer clues about how Earth began.
The Spirit spacecraft entered Mars' atmosphere at about 7:29 p.m. PST 10:29
p.m. EST/0329 GMT after an approach that took the spacecraft from a top
speed of 12,000 mph to zero in six minutes.
SAYING THE RIGHT PRAYERS
"I said it would be six minutes of hell and in this case we said the right
prayers and got up to heaven," Ed Weiler, NASA associate administrator,
To arrive intact on the planet's surface, the spacecraft had to deploy a
parachute, jettison its heat shield, and fire retro rockets. The final drop
of about four stories was cushioned by giant airbags, which allowed the
lander to bounce across the bleak Martian landscape for up to half a mile
before coming to rest inside the giant Gusev crater.
Inside the lander is the Spirit rover, a golf-cart sized mobile geology
laboratory that will study the rocks and soil on Mars for evidence of water
and past or present life.
Earlier, optimistic scientists from the space agency said their craft
appeared to be hurtling toward a "bulls-eye" touch-down.
The scientists had made final adjustments to the parachute deployment to
accommodate a dust storm blowing on Mars, but found themselves on such a
perfect course that they could scrap more navigation maneuvers.
Project managers picked Gusev, an impact crater bigger than the U.S. state
of Connecticut, in part because they believed it may have once held a lake.
A second rover, nicknamed Opportunity, is expected to land on the other side
of the red planet in three weeks.
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