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Thursday, January 25, 2007
Ok, I know, I'm off by a day (darn Wikipedia using GMT to time/date everything!), but in any case the story of the successful landing, and subsequent much-better-than-anybody's-dreams performance, of NASA's two Mars Exploration Rovers is the subject of today's installment of TFH. MER-A, Spirit, successfully landed on Mars on January 3, 2004. Its sibling MER-B, Opportunity, landed on the red planet on January 24, 2004. Successfully landing on Mars is a big deal; many spacecraft - Mariner 3, Mariner 8, Mars Observer, Mars Climate Orbiter, and Mars Polar Lander just to name a few - have all been lost at some point on their journey. Building on the successful landing of Mars Pathfinder on July 4, 1997, engineers at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory enhanced the Entry, Descent, and Landing (EDL) systems for use by the MERs. This amazing system of heatshield, parachute, retrorockets, and airbags safely delivered both Spirit and Opportunity to the Martian surface, where they are both still exploring three Earth years later! If you'd like to learn more about what it took to get Spirit and Opportunity to Mars, and how they're still roaming the surface today, check out the main website, but also look at the video clips on this page, particularly the ones for navigating to Mars, and "6 Minutes of Terror" - the story of Entry, Descent, and Landing. This story is even better because both MERs were only designed for a 90 sol (e.g. Martian Day) life span. Spirit will enter its 1,090th sol in the next day; Opportunity is at 978 sols. Getting to Mars safely is a huge achievement. The Mars Exploration Rovers are a national triumph. My congratulations go to all those who have worked on these amazing exploits! However, for navigation engineers Lou D'Amario and Darren Baird (seen in the "navigating" video) - and for EDL engineers Jaime Dyk, Wayne Lee, Rob Manning, Tom Rivellini, and Adam Steltzner (all appear in the "EDL" video) - along with all your other colleagues who were involved with getting the rovers down to the surface, the safe arrivals of Spirit on January 3, 2004 and Opportunity on January 24, 2004 were your finest hour!