NASA's twin robot geologists, the Mars Exploration Rovers, launched toward Mars on June 10 and July 7, 2003, in search of answers about the history of water on Mars. They landed on Mars January 3 and January 24 PST, 2004 (January 4 and January 25 UTC, 2004).
Primary among the mission's scientific goals have been to search for and characterize a wide range of rocks and soils that hold clues to past water activity on Mars. The spacecraft landed on opposite sides of Mars that appear to have been affected by liquid water in the past.
After the airbag-protected landing the robots settled onto the surface and opened, rolled out to take panoramic images. These images gave scientists the information they needed to select promising geological targets that tell part of the story of water in Mars' past. Then, the rovers drove to those locations to perform on-site scientific investigations.
Initially the expectations were to have the robots function for a matter of months and drive up to 40 meters (about 44 yards) per day, for a total of up to one 1 kilometer (about three-quarters of a mile). Both goals have been far exceeded!
Spirit's traverse map Spirit's total odometry is unchanged at 7,730.50 meters (4.80 miles). More than 1,300 commands were radiated to Spirit as part of the recovery effort in an attempt to elicit a response from the rover. No communication has been received from Spirit since Sol 2210 (March 22, 2010). The project concluded the Spirit recovery efforts on May 25, 2011.
Opportunity's traverse map through Sol 2989
Total odometry as of Sol 2989 (June 20, 2012), is 21.43 miles (34,491.99 meters).
Opportunity has been exploring the north end of Cape York on the rim of Endeavour Crater.
With Mars Odyssey still working to recover from their safe mode event, Communication with the rover has been limited to just two UHF relay passes per week from Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. NASA scientists have been successful in controlling this robot and making it still do some driving.
On June 12, 2012, the rover drove a little over 56 feet (17 meters) to the north, approaching the boundary between the Cape York geologic unit and the Meridiani plains. On June 20th Opportunity bumped just over 16 feet (5 meters) north to straddle the contact unit between Cape York and Meridiani, and position a candidate target within the work volume of the robotic arm. Opportunity also performed two atmospheric argon measurements on June 13 and June 18, 2012, using the Alpha Particle X-ray Spectrometer. The rover continues to benefit from solar array dust cleaning events, which have greatly increased the daily energy production. As of Sol 2989 (June 20, 2012), solar array energy production was 526 watt-hours.
The Mars Exploration Rovers act as robot geologists while they are on the surface of Mars. You can explore the various parts of the rover by clicking on the image below.
In some senses, the rovers´ parts are similar to what any living creature would need to keep it "alive" and able to explore. The rovers each have:
A body: a structure that protects the rovers´ "vital organ.s"
Brains: computers to process information.
Temperature controls: internal heaters, a layer of insulation, and more.
A "neck and head": a mast for the cameras to give the rovers a human-scale view.
Eyes and other "senses": cameras and instruments that give the rovers information about their environment.
Arm: a way to extend its reach.
Wheels and "legs": parts for mobility.
Energy: batteries and solar panels.
Communications: antennas for "speaking" and "listening."
- Cruise vehicle dimensions: 2.65 meters (8.7 feet) diameter, 1.6 meters (5.2 feet) tall Rover dimensions: 1.5 meter (4.9 feet) high by 2.3 meters (7.5 feet) wide by 1.6 meter (5.2 feet) long
- Weight: 1,062 kilograms (2,341 pounds) total at launch, consisting of 174-kilogram (384- pound) rover, 365-kilogram (805-pound) lander, 198-kilogram (436-pound) backshell and parachute, 90-kilogram (198-pound) heat shield and 183-kilogram (403-pound) cruise stage, plus 52 kilograms (115 pounds) of propellant
- Power: Solar panel and lithium-ion battery system providing 140 watts on Mars surface
- Science instruments: Panoramic cameras, miniature thermal emission spectrometer, Mössbauer spectrometer, alpha particle X-ray spectrometer, microscopic imager, rock abrasion tool, magnet arrays
- Launch vehicle: Delta II 7925
- Launch of Spirit: June 10, 2003, from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla.
- Launch of Opportunity: July 7, 2003
- Earth-Mars distance at launch: 103 million kilometers (64 million miles)
- Earth-Mars distance on landing day: 170.2 million kilometers (105.7 million miles)
- One-way speed-of-light time Mars-to-Earth on landing day: 9.46 minutes
- Total distance traveled Earth to Mars (approximate): 487 million kilometers (303 million miles)
- Near-surface atmospheric temperature at landing site: -100 C (-148 F) to 0 C (32 F)
- Primary mission: 90 Mars days, or "sols" (equivalent to 92 Earth days)
- Cost: Approximately $820 million total, consisting approximately of $645 million spacecraft development and science instruments; $100 million launch; $75 million mission operations and science processing
Here are a series of photos of the mission. The photo below is the first picture of earth ever taken from another planet.
Here is a picture of Mars.
Some of the Rover photos....
In this photo, the sun is sinking just below the rim of Gusev Crater. It appears about 2/3 the size of the sun as seen from Earth during sunset, since Mars is about 48 million miles farther away from the sun.