NASA's Mars Rovers Set Longevity Record On The Red Planet; Satellite Interviews With Expert Available

PASADENA, Calif. -- NASA's Mars Exploration Rover Project will pass a
historic Martian longevity record on Thursday, May 20. The
Opportunity rover will surpass the duration record set by NASA's
Viking 1 Lander of six years and 116 days operating on the surface of
Mars. The effects of favorable weather on the red planet could also
help the rovers generate more power.

NASA will offer live satellite interviews with Mars Exploration
Project Manager John Callas of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory,
Pasadena, Calif. Interviews are available from 9:30 to 11:20 a.m. EDT
on Thursday. To participate, reporters should contact Mark Petrovich
at 818-393-4359 or Elena Mejia at 818-393-5467 by 8 p.m. EDT on

Opportunity's twin rover, Spirit, began working on Mars three weeks
before Opportunity. However, Spirit has been out of communication
since March 22. If it awakens from hibernation and resumes
communication, that rover will attain the Martian surface longevity
record. Spirit's hibernation was anticipated, based on energy
forecasts, as the amount of sunshine hitting the robot's solar panels
declined during autumn on Mars' southern hemisphere. Unfortunately,
mobility problems prevented rover operators from positioning Spirit
with a favorable tilt toward the north, as during the first three
winters it experienced.

The rovers' fourth winter solstice, the day of the Martian year with
the least sunshine at their locations, was Wednesday, May 12.
Opportunity, and likely Spirit, surpassing the Viking Lander 1
longevity record is truly remarkable, considering these rovers were
designed for only a 90-day mission on the surface of Mars," Callas
said. "Passing the solstice means we're over the hump for the cold,
dark, winter season."

Unless dust interferes, which is unlikely in the coming months, the
solar panels on both rovers should gradually generate more
electricity. Operators hope that Spirit will recharge its batteries
enough to awaken from hibernation, start communicating and resume
science tasks.

Unlike recent operations, Opportunity will not have to rest to regain
energy between driving days. The gradual increase in available
sunshine will eventually improve the rate of Opportunity's progress
across a vast plain toward its long-term destination, the Endeavour

This month, some of Opportunity's drives have been planned to end at
an energy-favorable tilt on the northern face of small Martian plain
surface ripples. The positioning sacrifices some distance to regain
energy sooner for the next drive. Opportunity's cameras can see a
portion of the rim of Endeavour on the horizon, approximately eight
miles away, across the plain's ripples of windblown sand.

"The ripples look like waves on the ocean, like we're out in the
middle of the ocean with land on the horizon, our destination," said
Steve Squyres of Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y. Squyres is the
principal investigator for Opportunity and Spirit. "Even though we
know we might never get there, Endeavour is the goal that drives our

The team chose Endeavour as a destination in mid-2008, after
Opportunity finished two years examining the smaller Victoria Crater.
Since then, the goal became even more alluring when orbital
observations found clay minerals exposed at Endeavour. Clay minerals
have been found extensively on Mars from orbit, but have not been
examined on the surface.

"Those minerals form under wet conditions more neutral than the wet,
acidic environment that formed the sulfates we've found with
Opportunity," said Squyres. "The clay minerals at Endeavour speak to
a time when the chemistry was much friendlier to life than the
environments that formed the minerals Opportunity has seen so far. We
want to get there to learn their context. Was there flowing water?
Were there steam vents? Hot springs? We want to find out."

Launched in 1975, Project Viking consisted of two orbiters, each
carrying a stationary lander. Viking Lander 1 was the first
successful mission to the surface of Mars, touching down on July 20,
1976. It operated until Nov. 13, 1982, more than two years longer
than its twin lander or either of the Viking orbiters. The record for
longest working lifetime by a spacecraft at Mars belongs to a later
orbiter: NASA's Mars Global Surveyor operated for more than 9 years
after arriving in 1997. NASA's Mars Odyssey, in orbit since in 2001,
has been working at Mars longer than any other current mission and is
on track to take the Mars longevity record late this year.

Science discoveries by the Mars Exploration Rover have included
Opportunity finding the first mineralogical evidence that Mars had
liquid water and Spirit finding evidence for hot springs or steam
vents and a past environment of explosive volcanism.

Thursday's interviews will be conducted on the NASA TV Live
Interactive Media Outlet Channel and carried live on the NASA TV
Public Channel. For NASA TV coordinates and downlink information,


JPL manages the Mars rovers for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in
Washington. For more information about the rovers, visit:


Source: NASA

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