U.S. Water News Online
CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. -- The second of two robotic explorers
seeking to see how long there was water on the surface of Mars, a
possible link to life on the Red Planet, is ready for launch, NASA
The second Mars Rover, nicknamed "Opportunity," will join its
twin, "Spirit," which launched June 10, on a seven-month journey to
the Red Planet.
They are expected to arrive in early January.
On Earth, life exists wherever natural sources of water are found,
which accounts for the space agency's keen interest in ancient
sources of Martian water.
NASA does not expect the rovers to actually find life. But if the
golf-cart sized robots succeed, scientists will know if water that
boiled away eons ago when Mars was catastrophically stripped of its
atmosphere survived long enough for life to generate.
"We know Mars has water, we know it had it in the past," said Ed
Weiler, NASA's associate administrator for space science. "What we
don't know is how long this water persisted in any given place. If it
stayed there for tens of millions of years, there's a good chance
life might have evolved."
The rovers are headed for opposite regions on Mars, but sending
two also doubles the chance of getting some science from at least one
"Mars is a graveyard for spacecraft," said Weiler. "The world has
attempted about nine landings on Mars, of which three have been
successful. One for three is a great batting average for baseball,
but when these things cost this muc h, its not that great for space."
The combined cost of the two missions is $800 million, according
to NASA. Weiler suggested that was a bargain compared to the first
spacecraft to successfully land on Mars, the Viking missions sent by
the United States in the 1970s, which cost $4 billion in 2003
The six-wheeled rovers have the ability to scoop up soil and drill
into rocks, then examine the samples. Data will be sent back to Earth
for analysis by scientists at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in
Pasadena, California, where the mission control will be located.
The twin missions will join European and Japanese spacecraft
already on their way to Mars.
All of the missions are taking advantage of a rare proximity
between the planets -- with just 85 million miles to Mars, making its
closest approach to Earth this summer in 15,000 years -- that cuts
the normal travel time from nine or 10 months to seven.
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