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NASA investigator: Mars rover mission 'adventure of a lifetime'
[February 24, 2011]

NASA investigator: Mars rover mission 'adventure of a lifetime'

Feb 24, 2011 (Stillwater NewsPress - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) -- STILLWATER, Okla. -- Mars is a fairly abysmal place today.

It's cold, dry, dusty and desolate, said Steve Squyres, the principal investigator of NASA's Mars rover program.

"It is a terrible place," he said. "If you went there, you would hate it." However, Squyres said, evidence discovered during the mission indicates that Mars in the ancient past was a very different place from the one he and his team are exploring now.

Squyres delivered a guest lecture Wednesday evening at Oklahoma State University's Wes Watkins Center. Squyres' lecture was the featured event in the university's Research Week lineup.

Since the Mars rover mission began, scientists have uncovered evidence of erosion on the red planet, indicating liquid water once existed. Dry river and lake beds are scattered across the Martian surface, Squyres said. The rovers have also found minerals that can only form in the presence of water, he said.

"This is telling us that, in the past, Mars was different," he said.

The two rovers, Spirit and Opportunity, landed on Mars in January 2004. Originally, Squyres said, the rovers were designed to last about 90 days. He expected them to last longer -- maybe twice as long, he said. But the two rovers have outlasted even the most optimistic expectations, he said.

"If I'm doing my math right, today is the 2,539th day of our 90-day mission to Mars," he said.

Only one of the two rovers is operable at the moment, Squyres said. The team hasn't heard from Spirit in several months, he said, because the rover's solar rays became covered in dust during Martian winter. Squyres said he hasn't given up hope on Spirit: the robot's solar rays became covered in dust once before, but an opportune gust of wind cleaned them off.

Even if the team does regain control of Spirit, it will still be in rough shape, Squyres said.

Opportunity is in better condition, and is on its way to a massive canyon called the Endeavour Crater, Squyres said. If it does reach the crater, the payoff could be huge, he said.

"If we can get to the rim, it will be like the mission started over again," he said.

The death of Spirit and Opportunity won't mean the end of the Mars rover program, Squyres said. NASA is scheduled to launch another rover next year. The next rover will be nuclear-powered, he said, and will be capable of searching for organic material.

"It has been, in the very literal sense of the phrase, the adventure of a lifetime," he said.

To see more of the Stillwater NewsPress or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to Copyright (c) 2011, Stillwater NewsPress, Okla. Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services. For more information about the content services offered by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services (MCT), visit

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