2003 Mars Exploration Rovers: Spirit and Opportunity

 

Between April and June, 2004, my JPL office was on one of the three MER project floors so I got an insider's look at the people and activities of the most successful Mars project of our time . . . at least until the next one!

 

  

Wayne Lee post-landing interview

 Spirit's Landing, Jan. 4, 2004

 Opportunity Landing, Jan. 24, 2004

A week after the landing Vice President Cheney visited in person to congratulate the rover team. Then a few days after that President Bush made his dramatic announcement at NASA HQ that the US would begin a long-term human exploration of the Moon, Mars and beyond. It seemed to be partly related to the success of our rover.

It was an enormous risk trying to land two big, expensive rovers on Mars. But the Lab succeeded and helped give birth to a new national space policy in the process. Lesson learned: don't be afraid to take big risks and then do the very best you possibly can because if you're successful you could change the course of history.

 

Rover's First Drive

I was a frequent visitor to the viewing gallery in the High Bay at JPL so I could watch the rover ATLO process, meaning the construction and testing of all the hardware in preparation for Mars. One day I arrived at gallery to find it almost packed to capacity. A large number of MER team members were there to watch the rover's first drive (above). So I stood there with them and watched as "Rover 2" took it's first drive. I think Rover 2 later became known as "Spirit".

 

 
That's me, haunting the High Bay viewing gallery at JPL. That mannikin in the clean room "bunny suit" was temporarily in the viewing gallery so I posed next to him. Jan. 2004: That's me having fun at the Planetary Society's Wild About Mars event celebrating the landing of Spirit.

 

My July 2004 geology trip to Greenland

A personal quest for ancient rocks on a cold arctic island

While our two robotic field geologists Spirit and Opportunity were performing so brilliantly on Mars I set out for the Arctic island of Greenland in search of rare fluorescent minerals. It was my turn to play field geologist and I worked very hard at it. I wanted to show my fellow Greenland adventurers that I, too, had "the right stuff". Well, it turns out that I made a discovery in Greenland that none of the others had made in five years of collecting there! The trip leader was suitably impressed when I showed him my specimens of what is probably the rare mineral called tundrite. It was exciting to be an American explorer in a strange and distant world.

 

Meanwhile, back on Mars . . .

Martian dust devil captured on film by Spirit

 

Sunset

 

Opportunity watches sunset at Meridiani Planum

 

Martian Moons Eclipse the Sun

 

 
 

 

Animations from March, 2004: Spirit snapped the larger Martian moon Phobos passing in front of the Sun on Sol 45, left and Opportunity captured the smaller moon Deimos as it "transited" the Sun on Sol 39, right.

 

 

My rover image appeared on the mission website at JPL.

 

Spirit and Opportunity on Mars

 

 

 

 

See the latest pictures from Spirit and Opportunity in the Planetary Photojournal  

 Mars Rovers JPL website

 

MER Color Stereo Images of Gusev Crater and Meridiani Planum

 

Note: Computer animator Dan Maas created the amazing MER rover model widely seen in his animations and still-images. Eventually I had no choice but to use versions of his rover (such as in the two stamp-like MER icon images at the top right of this page).

 

 

The Mars Exploration Rover model at Cornell

 
That's astrogeologist Jim Bell next to the MER model. The 2003 rovers are considerably bigger and more capable than the little Sojourner rover.

You can follow the development of the science instruments and specialized hardware with these links.

MER ATHENA instruments site, Cornell University

MER Microscopic Imager, USGS Astrogeology Research Program

Mini-TES (Mini-Thermal Emission Spectrometer), Arizona State University

Mössbauer Spectrometer, Johanes Gutenberg University

 

 

I submitted this "MER science logo" to the rover team logo contest but it wasn't selected. In fact no particular logo was ever selected. No one knew at the time but the rovers did venture down into Martian craters, just as I depicted. The color on the crater walls are simulated Mini-TES data. Landing site selection was a very important task. The trick was to find two safe landing sites within the designated equatorial region that are still geologically interesting. You may click on the landing site link above to learn more about the site selection process but it's very technical.

 

Fourth Millennium Mission Art Links

 

 

Continue to 2003 Mars Express

 

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