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Squyres covers morning talk shows with Spirit
June 12, 2003

By Blaine P. Friedlander Jr.

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. -- America ate breakfast with Cornell astronomer Steven Squyres on the morning of June 6, when the scientist appeared on all the network morning news programs to explain the importance of the launch of Spirit, the first Mars Exploration Rover.

Speaking from the clean room at the Kennedy Space Center, Cape Canaveral, Squyres told Lester Holt, on NBC's "Today" show, that the twin-rover mission will be quite different from the Mars Pathfinder mission in 1997. "On Pathfinder we were demonstrating the technology. Here we're taking that technology to explore more of Mars this time," he said.

Squyres, NASA's principal investigator for the mission's Athena science package, to be carried by the two roving vehicles, told Holt that "this time we're sending two rovers to opposite sides of the red planet" and "we're using a tried-and-true landing system" to get there. Spirit was launched June 10, and the second rover, named Opportunity, is scheduled for launch June 25.

Humanity has always been curious about the planets, noted Squyres, adding that Mars is a "cold, dry, barren and desolate place." But, he said, "We're going to two places where we think there might have been water. We have some hints of it."

On "Fox Morning News," Squyres explained to viewers that the mission on the planet's surface will be conducted by robotic geologists, with cameras and spectrometers aboard the rovers looking for rocks, and with a rock abrasion tool grinding at rocks to gather more information. "I don't know what we're going to find," he said.

Squyres could not keep his happiness and excitement about the Mars mission hidden behind his clean-room suit and face garb. "We will be trying to read the story that the rocks are telling us, and we'll probably get a few surprises," he told NBC.