NASA gives mission a five-month extension
U.S. Water News Online
PASADENA, Calif. -- NASA gave its twin Mars rovers the
green light to continue searching the Red Planet for evidence it once
was a wetter place hospitable to life.
The five-month, $15 million extension to the already $820 million
mission means Opportunity and Spirit could keep exploring Mars
through September -- nearly three times longer than originally
Dust, cold and mechanical wear-and-tear could curtail the lifetime
of either or both rovers, however, said Firouz Naderi, manager of the
Mars exploration program at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
For Opportunity, the move gives it time to build on the evidence
it already has found that water once bathed its landing site on Mars,
allowing it to visit at least four outcrops of rock, said Washington
University's Ray Arvidson, the mission's deputy main scientist.
The first outcrop Opportunity analyzed, within the small crater it
landed in Jan. 24, revealed that standing water, perhaps a salty sea
or swamp, once covered Meridiani Planum.
For Spirit, working since Jan. 3 in Gusev Crater on the other side
of planet, similar evidence of abundant past water activity has been
elusive. NASA will lose touch with the rovers Sept. 13, when Mars
passes behind the sun. The blackout should leave Earth out of contact
with the two rovers for a week to 10 days, Naderi said.
If NASA can re-establish contact with the rovers once Mars pops
back into view, the agency could further extend operations, Naderi
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