DATELINE: ~ Here we go again: Now it's Opportunity knocking at Mars' door. We've got the Martians surrounded!
NASA had confirmed on January 3, 2004 that Rover made a "bull's-eye" landing in a Martian crater, but communication with the Rover was in doubt until Saturday night, January 24, 2004 when Rover was "resurrected," according to NASA.
We mere mortals on Mother Earth were elated at successfully landing Spirit in a crater the size of Connecticut on the Red Planet. Now we are thrilled once again as Opportunity has successfully landed on the opposite side of Mars.
The first spacecraft touched down on Mars with the Spirit rover on January 3, 2004 and now Opportunity will be the second of two identical six-wheeled robots that will roam the planet's rocky surface.
NASA's team, unabashedly describing itself as "the best in the world," broke out the well-deserved champagne and declared "We are two for two!" Arnold Schwarzennegger, the Governor of California, and Al Gore, former Vice President, were standing in the wings with other dignataries and beaming with pride at the Jet Propulsion Lab when the celebration occurred.
Spirit made a flawless landing within a cigar-shaped ellipse inside Gusev Crater. The Connecticut sized crater is situated just south of the Martian equator.
When Opportunity landed safely, it signalled Earth within minutes of landing. Opportunity came to rest upside down.
Opportunity's target is an area called Meridiani Planum, whose terrain scientists believe will be dramatically different from the reddish soil of Gusev Crater. Meridiani is expected to be dark gray or black and relatively dust-free.
The region is believed to be rich in a mineral called gray hematite, which typically forms in marine or volcanic environments rich in water. The landing site is 45-mile-long ellipse that is one of the smoothest and flattest places on Mars.
Until 2004, attempts to land spacecraft on Mars have failed with few exceptions. The latest apparent failure was the British Beagle 2 lander, which has not been heard from since its scheduled arrival at Mars on Christmas Day, 2003.
NASA's last attempt at landing on Mars, in 1999, failed when the Polar Lander slammed into the Martian surface without so much as a hello, how are you or go to hell ! But our scientists at NASA had set their hands to the plow knowing that they must plow to the end of the furrow.
Spirit and Opportunity, taken together, represent a $820 million NASA project.
The rovers are designed to spend 90 days analyzing and photographing Martian rocks and soil for clues that could reveal whether the Red Planet was ever a warmer, wetter environment capable of sustaining life.
At this time, Mars is a dry and cold world. But ancient river channels and other water-carved features viewed from orbit suggest that Mars may have had a more hospitable past.
The rovers are equipped to find evidence that liquid water ... a necessary ingredient for life ... has existed on the surface of Mars. As water goes, so goes weather. An occasional bolt of lightning hitting the primordial soup would likely have excited the momentary tingling sensation which creates life.
NASA launched the 384-pound Spirit and its twin, Opportunity, in hopes they would become, respectively, the fourth and fifth U.S. spacecraft to survive landing on Mars. Twenty other spacecraft from various nations have failed to make the requisite soft landing on the Red Planet.
Mars is presently making the closest approach to Earth in 60,000 years. We are sending spacecraft probes to Mars at regular 26-month intervals, or each time the Earth laps the Red Planet as they both circle the sun.
One of NASA's many releases for the awaiting public is posted on the JPL website:
"Spirit's Progress: During sols 148 through 151, Spirit advanced significantly closer to the "Columbia Hills" and now sits only 220 meters (722 feet) from its first target at the base, a location informally named "Spur B."
"Opportunity's Progress: On sol 133 the rover executed the first real "dip" into Endurance Crater. The intent was to go far enough in that all wheels would be on the slope of the crater, and then come all the way back out, proving that the rover was capable of getting back out before going very deep. The other main objective was to gather information on the degree and nature of any slip that would be experienced while traversing the crater wall. The execution went extremely well, with slips and disturbance of the terrain well below acceptable levels, giving the team confidence that the rover is capable of going deeper. The engineering team will continue to characterize the variety of slopes and materials that Opportunity will encounter deeper in the crater."