Full Panorama By Next Week
The first full-color snapshots of Mars have surpassed all expectations and shown the so-called the red planet actually boasts subtle shades of blue and ochre, NASA scientists said Tuesday.
The image, actually a mosaic of 12 images taken by a high definition camera, is of such high quality that NASA was able to zoom in on details of stones and pebbles in the reddish brown sand in front of the robot.
The 12-million-pixel image is "three or four times better than any previous mission," said Jim Bell, who is in charge of the "PanCam."
The picture is so close to reality that "it is approximately the color you would see" with your eyes.
"They are the highest resolution pictures of Mars ever obtained," offering "exquisite detail, a wonderful mix of both smooth and angular rocks, some a few tens of centimeters across," said Bell.
The mission's principal investigator Steve Squyres said a peak some 25 to 30 kilometers (15.5-18.5 miles) away was visible from the photo and also described the surfaces of the rocks as "remarkably smooth."
Bell noted that the rocks had more blue tones than the rest of the visible Mars-scape, which appeared largely reddish.
The image, covering a 45 degree angle, offers just a segment of the full 360-degree panorama, he said. Other photos in the series have not yet been transmitted back to Earth.
The first of two Mars Exploration Rovers (MER-A) came to rest on the red planet on Sunday, and all of its delicate instruments were found to be in perfect working order.
The robot remains on the rover landing platform but is scheduled to start its journey moving across Martian terrain at the start of next week.
A second, identical robot -- MER-B -- is scheduled to touch down on the opposite side of Mars January 25.
Two eyes of the camera, 30 centimeters (12 inches) apart, sit 1.5 meters (4.9 feet) above ground level on the rover's mast to provide full-circle panorama photos in a 24 frame by three frame mosaic that offer "a combined image full of fine detail."
And in a telephone call Tuesday, US President George W. Bush "complimented the team," said Charles Elachi, head of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California
"It was a wonderful phone call, humorous and exciting," Elachi said.
"We had a little chat about quantum physics and the string theory," he said.
Some 280 NASA scientists are adjusting their body clock to Mars time in order to monitor the two robot probes.
Squyres, a Cornell University geologist, proudly displays a specially designed wristwatch that records Earth's 24 hour day in 24 hours, 37 minutes and 35 seconds, to reflect the longer Martian day.
His Mars watch is "a unique piece, specially modified," he told reporters.
Spirit made a successful landing on Mars at the weekend, in the Gusev Crater, some 15 degrees south of the Martian equator.
NASA announced it would name the spot where the robot landed in memory of the crew of the doomed space shuttle Columbia.
"The area in the vastland of the Gusev Crater where Spirit landed this weekend will be called the Columbia Memorial Station," NASA boss Sean O'Keefe announced at a press briefing in Washington.
Opportunity makes its descent on the Martian region of Meridiani Planum, two degrees south of the Equator but on the opposite side of the planet to Spirit.
With the twin explorers on opposite hemispheres, the teams of NASA researchers for Spirit and Opportunity will alternately go into action when the sun rises on their part of the planet.
By the time the three-month long missions come to an end, the scientists will have fallen behind almost five complete turns of the watch dial, severely taxing their biological clocks and physical training, even more than the researchers behind the 1997 Pathfinder and its one-month mission on Mars.
Running on solar energy, the two martian rovers have been programmed to get most of their work done between 10:00 and 15:00 (Martian time), when the sun is at its highest over the Martian landscape.
earlier Spirit Rover reports
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Mars Rovers at JPL
Mars Rovers at Cornell
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Doubts Over Mars 2003 Rover Duo
Los Angeles - Sep 16, 2002
With launch only eight months from now, there are continuing technical problems with NASA's twin 2003 Mars Exploration Rovers that could possibly delay the arrival of one or both rovers at Mars until 2008. Spooked by back-to-back failures at Mars in 1999, NASA is considering alternate launch plans that would delay the missions until fully assured the landers have the maximum chance of successfully landing on Mars using the Pathfinder hard landing technique of cushioning the lander for final touchdown within a cocoon of shock absorbing balloons.
the following are additional detailed mission development reports by Bruce Moomaw outlining the history of the current Rovers and the failed 1999 Mars Polar Lander mission.
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