Mars rovers resume mission after surviving dust storms

NASA's Mars rovers Opportunity and Spirit have resumed their three-year-old mission after surviving giant dust storms that nearly destroyed the twin robots, the US space agency said.

Mars rovers resume mission after surviving dust storms
NASA's Mars rovers Opportunity and Spirit have resumed their three-year-old mission after surviving giant dust storms that nearly destroyed the twin robots, the US space agency said.

The rovers, which arrived on the Red Planet in January 2004 on a mission that was originally supposed to last three months, had been placed in hibernation mode in July to protect them from the Martian dust storms.

Opportunity rolled about four meters (13 feet) into the 800-meter (half-mile) diameter Victoria Crater on Tuesday to get all six wheels past its rim, and then backed uphill about three meters (10 feet), NASA said.

The rover had to be stopped as its wheels were slipping too much.

"We will do a full assessment of what we learned from the drive today and use that information to plan Opportunity's descent into the crater," said John Callas, rover project manager at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.

Once it begins its extended exploration of the crater, Opportunity will probe layered rocks that may preserve evidence of interaction between the atmosphere and surface from millions of years ago, when the atmosphere might have been different from today's.

It is the biggest crater the rover has visited in its 43-month-old mission.

Spirit returned to work on September 5, climbing onto the Home Plate plateau of layered bedrock, which NASA said bears clues "to an explosive mixture of lava and water."

The rovers were placed in hibernation to save power because the dust storms were covering their solar panels, impeding their ability to absorb energy from the sun.

The skies above the rovers remain dusty but have been clearing gradually since early last month, NASA said.

"These rovers are tough. They faced dusty winds, power starvation and other challenges -- and survived," said Alan Stern, associate administrator of NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington.

"Now they are back to doing groundbreaking field work on Mars. These spacecraft are amazing," he said.

AFP
Last Mod: 13 Eylül 2007, 11:16
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