Saturday, January 3, 2009

Spirit - 5 years on Mars - January 3, 2004

It was the evening of January 3, five years ago. We were clustered in a little group on my couch, me and a few of my best space geek friends, anxiously watching NASA TV live from DirecTV. The path of the signal from Mars took about 20 minutes from Mars to Earth, then picked up by NASA, then beamed over to the ground station, shot up 23,000 miles to the satellite, then back down 23,000 miles to my pizza plate sized dish on my roof. So we were seeing it as 'live' as possible.
We were looking at a bunch of JPL guys sitting in a room of computers looking a bit more tense then we were obviously. Entry - *Whew!* no metric conversion errors for this one. Decent - they say the chute opened, thats a good thing. Landing - a signal indicating it was bouncing across the surface came down. Stronger, weaker, stronger....lost....back again!
Spirit had landed! We then watched the room of JPL engineers and scientists freaking out. There was some cheering on my couch too!
Hours went by, we watched the smiling guys get serious again and hope that the rover had urolled it's bags and opened up with the shiny side up. It was after midnight when the screaming started again in Pasadena. First pictures were coming in. Show us, show us......JPL guys were standing in front of a big projection TV while a bunch of images spilled all over the screen. Finally, a close up was shown on the screen in front of us. Cooool....

Five years later, Spirit has hiked across the Gusev plains, climbed a mountain, survived an early memory problem, limps along on 5 wheels now, nearly died from lack of sun - only to get cleaned off by dust devils that cleared it's solar panels, and nearly died a second time recently.
I still check on the rovers daily, they still wander, although Spirit is kind of weak and mostly sitting still, Opportunity is working it's way to a huge crater 7 miles away. The journey continues....(enlarge photo)

| MER site at JPL |

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