Archive for the ‘rover’ tag
Scientists get to have the coolest toys of all. Remember how you used to put a small camera in front of your remote control car so you can do some investigating and monitoring? Well, the Mars exploration rovers are like that, only with way better features. The rovers pack not only cameras but scientific tools as well, plus, they’re located in Mars.
The rovers were sent to Mars as part of NASA’s Mars Exploration Program, a long term robotic exploration of Mars, whose main mission is to look for signs indicating that Mars had abundant water supply and it harbored life some time before.
The rovers were sent to Mars on June 10 and July 7, 2003 and landed on Mars on January 3 and January 24, 2004 PST.
The rovers were named Spirit and Opportunity, they landed on the opposite sides of Mars. Spirit landed at the Gusev Crater, scientists suspect that this was a former lake, while Opportunity landed at the Meridiani Planum, where hematite is found.
Hematite is a mineral deposit that suggests previous water activity in Mars.
Panoramic Camera (PanCam) – Serves as the eyes of the rovers. It determines the structure of Mars’ terrain as well as mineralogy and texture.
Miniature Thermal Emission Spectrometer (Mini-Tes) – Located at the bottom of the rover. The Mini-Tes is used to identify rocks that are good candidates for further examination. It is also used to determine how the rocks formed and study the Martian atmosphere.
Mossbauer Spectrometer (MB) – Located on the arm of the rover and can actually be placed directly on a sample to be studied. It used to study rocks and soil with iron in them.
Alpha Particle X-Ray Spectrometer (APXS) – Determines the abundance of elements present in Martian rocks and soil.
Magnets – Used for collecting magnetic dust particles which will then be examined by the Mossbauer spectrometer and the Alpha Particle X-Ray Spectrometer.
Microscopic Imager (MI) - Used for close up images of Martian rocks and soil.
Rock Abrasion Tool (RAT) – Acts like a sweeper or hammer that removes particles on rocks to expose better quality materials that are worth examining.
Upon reaching Mars, the rovers are expected to travel 40 meters to 1 kilometer per day, which was exceeded by the rovers.
With the tools that Spirit and Opportunity has, they are like human geologists examining a site. It has arms that can put equipment directly on a rock or soil of interest, it has a magnifying lens, and if the rock is dirty or it wants to examine the inside of the rock, the Rat Abrasion Tool comes in Handy.
The rovers were launched using a Delta II 7925 launch vehicle. And, the same with other missions, the launch was a very suspenseful moment. We’ve had missions that failed during the launch phase so it’s very critical.
But the most suspenseful part of all is EDL phase or Entry, Descent and Landing. the purpose of the EDL is to make sure that the rovers arrive in Mars safely to be able to perform their task. There is a great risk that the mission could end at this phase. Here is a depiction of how the EDL goes.
As of today, the rovers still continue to investigate and roam around Mars. They’ve actually exceeded what was expected of them, much to the delight of the scientists who enjoying playing geologists. The rovers will eventually die out when it’s no longer able to recharge its batteries. But right now, they’re still on a roll!