Spirit Getting Better
Scientists at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena (CA)
were getting ready Friday to roll the Mars rover Opportunity off
its lander, as its beleaguered twin, Spirit, began transmitting
scientific data for the first time in more than 10 days.
Spirit's problems were apparently solved when JPL engineers
deleted about 1700 "non-essential files" from its internal drive.
They then rebooted the rover's computer and returned it to normal
operating mode, whereas before, it had been in "crippled" or safe
"I'm pleased to report that it seems to be working fine," said
Glenn Reeves, the mission's chief software engineer. "We alleviated
In the meantime, Spirit's twin rover, Opportunity, was being
readied to leave its lander at 12:30 a.m. EST Saturday morning.
Compared to the obstructions Spirit faced, Opportunity appears to
have a clear path to its first destination.
"At this point we have a very benign egress path so we're not
too worried," said systems engineer Daniel Limonadi.
Opportunity sits half a world away from Spirit, conducting the
same sort of search for signs that water once covered the now
desolate Red Planet. Opportunity does suffer one problem. A faulty
thermostat repeatedly turns itself off and on without being
commanded to do so by JPL. It controls the heating units that keep
the vehicle from overheating. At this point, engineers don't
believe it to be a major problem.
Already, Opportunity is providing JPL scientists with a wealth
of data, including some that indicates there was indeed a lot of
water surrounding its landing zone. Opportunity is on the Meridiani
Planum, inside a small crater -- 66 feet wide and 10 feet deep --
not far from an outcropping of pale bedrock.
It's that bedrock which could hold the key to determining once
and for all whether water ran freely over the surface of Mars
millenia ago. Ray Arvidson, deputy principal investigator, said
Opportunity's mini-thermal imaging spectrometer (mini-TES) seems to
have confirmed the presence of the iron-bearing mineral gray
hematite near the bedrock. On Earth, hematite generally forms in
bodies of water where there's a strong presence of lava rich in
iron. The Mars Global Surveyor first detected possible deposits of
hematite about the size of Oklahoma on the Martian surface. That
discovery led to the selection of Opportunity's landing site.
"We're still in the process of looking at the data," Arvidson
said. "But if you look at the mini-TES team they have huge smiles
on their faces."