Annual Report FY 2004 - Research at Cornell

24. The Spirit of The Rovers

Steven W. Squyres, Astronomy, and his science team continued Mars exploration, long after the 90-sol life planned for the rovers (and they are still going after 427 martian days to date of active exploration). Squyres explained, “What sets this mission apart from almost every other planetary mission that has ever flown is that every time a rover moves, you’re some place new in an unexplored terrain, and you have to use that information to inform the decision process for the next sol.” The goal of Squyres’ team of researchers was to look for evidence of whether conditions were once right for life on Mars by seeking rocks that were formed in liquid water. The researchers would study the rocks to learn something about the environment and its suitability for life and to see if the minerals formed preserve ancient evidence of former life. Science magazine chose the discoveries of NASA’s Mars Exploration Rover (MER) mission as Breakthrough of the Year in its December 17, 2004, edition. The discoveries culminated in evidence of the prolonged presence of potentially life-supporting, salty, acidic water on the Mars surface. The Cornell team of researchers consists of 28 people including James F. Bell, the lead scientist for the high-resolution, color, stereo-panoramic cameras that enabled the scientists to identify rocks and soil regions for suitable analysis. NASA has extended the mission up to 18 additional months, or however long the rovers last, through September 2006. The mission is managed by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

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