A rocket carrying Spirit blasts off from Florida on June 10, 2003.
Click on image for full size
Image courtesy NASA.
What will happen when on the MER missions?
Exploration Rovers (MER) were launched
from Florida in the summer of 2003. The first, Spirit, blasted off on June 10.
The second, Opportunity, blasted off on July 7. Each spacecraft spent about
six months in space on the way to Mars.
Spirit and Opportunity made it safely to Mars in January 2004. Spirit landed
Crater on January 3, 2004. Opportunity landed on Meridiani
Planum on January 24, 2004.
The spacecraft were going very fast, about 19,000 km per hour (12,000 mph),
when they got to Mars! They slowed down very quickly when they went into the
atmosphere of Mars. Their heat shields kept them from burning up. They had parachutes
that slowed them down some more. They also had airbags around them to make their
landings softer. They bounced more than 20 times when they landed!
After they stopped bouncing they let the air out of their airbags. Then they
unfolded themselves. Each rover
spread out its solar panels and unfolded its wheels. Engineers on Earth tested
each rover to make sure they were OK. Then the rovers drove onto the surface
of Mars. We think the rovers can last about 90 days on Mars. They are exploring
during the daytime and "resting" at night. After a while the solar
panels will stop making enough electricity to keep the rovers going. We hope
to learn a lot from them before that happens!
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