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Mars Exploration Rover Mission

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Artist's illustration of the MER Rover
NASA (larger version)

NASA's Mars Exploration Rover Mission (MER) is an unmanned Mars exploration mission that includes sending two Rovers (robots), MER-A ("Spirit") which was successfully launched on June 10, 2003, and MER-B ("Opportunity") which is scheduled to launch on June 28, 2003 to explore the Martian surface and geology.

The first robot, MER-A, is planned to land in an area called "Gusev Crater" (believed by scientists to once being a crater lake) on January 4, 2004. MER-B will land on January 25, 2004 in an area called "Meridiani Planum".

Primary among the mission's scientific goals is to search for and characterize a wide range of rocks and soils that hold clues to past water activity on Mars. The Mars Exploration Rover mission is part of NASA's Mars Exploration Program which includes the previous successful landers Viking in 1975 and Pathfinder in 1996.

Scientific instruments carried by the Rovers

  • Panoramic Camera (Pancam), for determining the mineralogy, texture, and structure of the local terrain.
  • Miniature Thermal Emission Spectrometer (Mini-TES), for identifying promising rocks and soils for closer examination, and to determine the processes that formed Martian rocks. The instrument will also look skyward to provide temperature profiles of the Martian atmosphere.
  • Mössbauer Spectrometer (MB), for close-up investigations of the mineralogy of iron-bearing rocks and soils.
  • Alpha Particle X-Ray Spectrometer (APXS), for close-up analysis of the abundances of elements that make up rocks and soils.
  • Magnets, for collecting magnetic dust particles. The Mössbauer Spectrometer and the Alpha Particle X-ray Spectrometer will analyze the particles collected, and help determine the ratio of magnetic particles to non-magnetic particles and composition of magnetic minerals in airborne dust and rocks that have been ground by the Rock Abrasion Tool.
  • Microscopic Imager (MI), for obtaining close-up, high-resolution images of rocks and soils.
  • Rock Abrasion Tool (RAT), for removing dusty and weathered rock surfaces and exposing fresh material for examination by instruments onboard.

The rover is designed to drive up to 40 metre in a single day, for a total of up to one 1 km total.

With their relative freedom of movements, the rovers will perform on-site geological investigations. The mast-mounted cameras are mounted 1.5 metre high and will provide 360-degree, stereoscopic, views of the terrain. The robotic arm will be able to place instruments directly up against rock and soil targets of interest. In the mechanical "fist" of the arm is a microscopic camera that will serve the same purpose as a geologist's handheld magnifying lens. The Rock Abrasion Tool serves the purpose of a geologist's rock hammer to expose the insides of rocks.


  • Portions of this article are adopted from NASA/JPL MER article (http://mars.jpl.nasa.gov/mer/overview/).

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