Is there life on Mars? Could humans build a new off-Earth
settlement on the red planet? Like the Earth's little brother,
Mars has long fascinated sky-watchers. NASA's new plans
for exploration of Mars include the Athena Payload:
instruments and tools for a Mars rover. Equipped with the
Athena Payload, the twin rovers of NASA's Mars Exploration
Rover project will be robotic field geologists, exploring Mars'
climate history and searching for signs of water and life. So
suit up, strap in, and prepare to blast off with Athena: roving
soon on a planet near you.
Spirit: 11:35 p.m. Eastern Standard Time January 3
Opportunity: 12:05 a.m. Eastern Standard Time January 25
Note: Times are "Earth-received time." They include the one-way time (about 10 minutes) for information to reach Earth from Mars.
Week Ending December 13, 2003
It's less than three weeks until Spirit lands. Our last
operations readiness test is over. The final flight software
has been loaded onto both Spirit and Opportunity, and we've
finished and tested all of the instrument commands for the
first week after we land. Final pre-landing health checks
are done on all the instruments. The spacecraft are ready
Down here on Earth, we're a little less ready. Once these
things hit the ground, our whole team is going to be completely
consumed by flight operations for months. So the focus now
is getting our lives in order so that we won't have too many
distractions when the time comes. Dentist appointments.
Haircuts. Drivers license renewals. Flu shots. All the
little things we've neglected for the past six months while
we've been getting ready to land, or that we know we won't
have time for for who knows how many months after we land.
And then there's the matter of sleep. It's too bad we can't
save it up now, because we're not going to be getting a lot
of it after landing! But least we're trying to make sure
that everybody gets rested and healthy, so that we start off
in good shape. Anyway, the plan is that in another couple of
weeks the team will be as ready for all this as Spirit and
Opportunity are now.
The Athena Payload is an international effort with major
contributions by Germany and Denmark. Click on the
flags above for more information.
While the ultimate field trip might someday be an actual journey to
Mars, NASA is doing the next best thing — giving high school teams the
opportunity to explore Mars by working on specific research projects
during the Mars Exploration Rover missions, set to land on the Red
Planet in January 2004.
here to learn more.
List of participating schools
The twin robotic geologists NASA is sending to Mars will embody in their
newly chosen names — Spirit and Opportunity — two cherished attributes
that guide humans to explore.
here to learn more.