|Volume: 01, Issue: 08|
Opportunity Joins Spirit on the Path to MarsNASA launched its second Mars Exploration Rover, Opportunity, July 7 aboard a Delta II launch vehicle. Opportunity's dash to Mars began with liftoff at 11:18 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida, briefly illuminating the Florida Space Coast beaches.
"We have a major step behind us now," said project manager Pete Theisinger. "There are still high-risk parts of this mission ahead of us, but we have two spacecraft on the way to Mars, and that's wonderful."
The spacecraft separated successfully from the Delta vehicle one hour and 23 minutes after liftoff. Flight controllers at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California, received a signal from Opportunity at 12:43 a.m. July 8 EDT via the Goldstone, California, antenna complex of NASA's Deep Space Network.
According to JPL's Richard Brace, Mars Exploration Rover deputy project manager, all systems on the spacecraft are operating as expected. Opportunity has successfully reduced its spin rate as planned and switched to celestial navigation using a star scanner.
As of 6 a.m. Pacific Daylight Time July 10, Opportunity will have traveled 6.6 million kilometers (4.1 million miles). The Mars Exploration Rover flight team at JPL is preparing to command Opportunity's first trajectory-correction maneuver on July 18.
Opportunity's twin, Spirit, also continues in good health on its cruise to Mars. As of 6 a.m. Pacific Daylight Time July 10, it will have traveled 82.6 million kilometers (51.3 million miles) since its June 10 launch.
Opportunity is scheduled to arrive at a site on Mars called Meridiani Planum on Jan. 25, 2004, three weeks after Spirit lands in a giant crater about halfway around the planet.
"Opportunity joins Spirit and other Mars-bound missions from the European Space Agency, Japan, and the United Kingdom, which together mark the most extensive exploration of another planet in history,” said NASA Associate Administrator for Space Science Dr. Ed Weiler. “This ambitious undertaking is an amazing feat for planet Earth and the human spirit of exploration."
NASA's Mars Global Surveyor orbiter has identified deposits at Meridiani Planum of a type of mineral that usually forms in wet environments. Both rovers will function as robotic geologists, examining rocks and soil for clues about whether past environments at their landing sites may have contained water and been hospitable to life.
JPL, a division of the California Institute of Technology, manages the Mars Exploration Rover project for NASA's Office of Space Science, Washington, D.C. Additional information about the project is available from JPL at http://mars.jpl.nasa.gov/mer or and from Cornell University, Ithaca, N.Y., at http://athena.cornell.edu.
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