An artist's depiction of what one of the MER rovers may look like on the surface of Mars.
Click on image for full size
Image courtesy NASA/JPL
Mars Exploration Rover Vehicles
Exploration Rovers are six-wheeled robotic vehicles that are exploring the
surface of Mars. The rovers, powered by solar
panels, are robotic "field geologists" that are examining Martian rocks and
soil for signs of the presence of liquid water
in Mars' past. The top speed of the vehicles, which are about the size of a
golf cart, is five centimeters (2 inches) per second. Allowing for rocky ground
and factoring in caution while negotiating rough terrain, the rovers are expected
to travel up to 40 meters (130 feet) each Martian day. The vehicles are designed
to survive for 90 Martian days, traveling a total of about one kilometer
(0.6 miles) during that time.
Each rover has nine cameras. Six of the cameras are for navigation and hazard
avoidance, one is a microscopic imager for taking detailed close-up views of
rocks, and a pair that are mounted atop a mast roughly the height of a human
(about 1.4 meters, or five feet, above the ground) shoot stereoscopic panoramas
of the rover's surroundings. The vehicle has a mass of 170 kilograms, so it
weighs 375 pounds on Earth but just 140 pounds in the weaker Martian gravity.
The rover has a robotic arm carrying several instruments that it is using to
examine rocks and soil. The
Mössbauer Spectrometer analyzes the mineral content of iron-bearing soil and
rocks. The Alpha Particle X-Ray Spectrometer (APXS) determines the abundances
of various elements in rock and soil samples. A Rock Abrasion Tool (RAT) mounted
on the arm grinds away the outer, weathered surface of rocks to allow the other
instruments to examine "fresh" material within. The microscopic imager camera
is also mounted on the arm.
Magnets mounted on the rover's body collect magnetic dust
particles from the air and ground up minerals scraped from rocks by the
RAT, helping to characterize the iron content of those materials. The vehicle
also carries a Miniature Thermal Emission Spectrometer (Mini-TES) that is helping
scientists identify rocks and soil that warrant a closer look, determine the
processes that formed specific rocks, and gather data on temperature profiles
of the Martian atmosphere (when pointed
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