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Goals: Mission Results

Goal 4: Prepare for Human Exploration

By demonstrating that it is possible to land safely and operate sophisticated equipment on Mars -- equipment that can last for years -- Spirit and Opportunity have helped blaze a trail for human exploration. More than three years into a mission that was originally planned to last 90 days, they have successfully wheeled their way over sand drifts and rocks, crater walls, and hills.

This image shows the opaque, elongated, late afternoon shadow of the rover extending upward from the bottom of the frame across a flat patch of bright, sandy ground in the direction of a precipitous drop on the rim of 'Endurance Crater.' The shadow consists of two long, black columns looking like a pair of thick planks tilted toward each other like the outer edges of the capital letter 'A.' They are the silhouette of the rover's wheels. Atop them is a blocky shadow with two lateral extensions reminiscent of arms held outward, topped by a vertical, narrow, pipe-like protuberance. These are silhouettes of the solar panels and the rover body topped by the rover's mast.
Wheels for Feet, Cameras for Eyes

Each of the twin Mars Exploration Rovers is about as tall as a human adult. Opportunity took this self-portrait six months after arriving on Mars. Perhaps one day, human explorers will take a self-portrait of their own shadows en route to a new destination on Mars.

Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Both rovers have survived a complete change of seasons on Mars while keeping a detailed log of changes in temperature, solar radiation, and atmospheric dust. Information they have collected about minerals and grain sizes in dust and soil will be vital to the design of spacesuits and vehicles carrying human explorers.

Spirit Self-Portrait

Spirit's solar panels were still gleaming two years after landing on Mars in this approximate true-color image taken in January 2006.

Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Cornell
This striking, false-color image shows relatively flat, upward-facing, pinkish-white rocks with terraced surfaces insterspersed with cracks filled with turquoise-gray sand and pearl-shaped concretions.

In overcoming unexpected obstacles, Spirit and Opportunity have demonstrated that it is possible to design and deliver robots to other planets that can move independently about the surface and adapt to changing conditions in harsh environments. While exploring Mars, rover drivers guided Opportunity out of a sand trap and wiggled a trapped rock loose from one of Spirit's wheels. Engineers learned to drive Spirit alternately forward and backward to redistribute lubricant in the wheel motor of a stuck wheel. They learned to operate Opportunity's robotic arm without one of the shoulder motors. Future spacecraft designers will apply lessons learned by the Mars rovers about soil characteristics, wheel sinkage, temperature changes, lubricant behavior at extremely cold temperatures, solar energy, wind-blown dust, and other conditions to design new, even more capable vehicles for exploring Mars.

This black-and-white image shows a bright, whitish-gray sand drift with a straight crest extending diagonally across the field of view from lower left to upper right. Hovering above the drift, entering the field of view from the lower left, is the rover's robotic arm, which reaches up and then bends down at a joint in the middle that works like an elbow. At the end of the arm, almost at the center of the image, a cluster of instruments dangles just above a dark track of churned-up soil created by one of the rover's wheels as it drove partway into the drift. On both sides of the frame, near the lower edge, is one of the rover's front wheels. Between the wheels is a dark track of churned-up soil beside and almost parallel to the drift. To the right of the drift, midway from the bottom, is a black rock. Beyond the drift are scattered small rocks and a sandy surface, bounded by a clear gray Martian sky.
Mission of Exploration

Scientific instruments on the end of both rovers' robotic arms have collected a treasure trove of data about the minerals and chemical composition of dust, soils, and rocks on Mars. Here, Spirit gathers data from a sand drift nicknamed "Serpent." Spirit took this image with the left front hazard avoidance camera in March 2004.

Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Thanks in part to the Mars Exploration Rovers' success, human footprints may one day accompany the wheel tracks in the Martian sand.

This sweeping color panorama shows a reddish-brown hill in the middle flanked by smaller hills on the right and left and the flat floor of Gusev Crater on the right. Two-thirds of the way across the image from the left, a pair of dark brown rover tracks meanders from the distant flank of the central hill toward the lower front edge of the scene.
No Turning Back

A pilgrim crossing into a new frontier, Spirit acquired this color panorama in November 2004, en route to the top of "Husband Hill," as residents of the U.S. were celebrating Thanksgiving.

Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Cornell


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