NASA's twin Mars rovers, nearing the third anniversary of their landings, are getting smarter as they get older. The unexpected longevity of Spirit and Opportunity is giving the space agency a chance to field-test on Mars some new capabilities useful both to these missions and future rovers.
NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter has a new project manager. Jim Erickson, of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., had been deputy project manager for the orbiter since early 2006. JPL's Jim Graf, who led the Mars robotic mission from development through flight to the red planet, is moving on to new challenges. He has joined JPL's Earth Science and Technology Directorate as deputy director.
Layers on Mars are yielding history lessons revealed by instruments flying overhead and rolling across the surface. Some of the first radar and imaging results from NASA's newest Mars spacecraft, the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, show details in layers of ice-rich deposits near the poles. Observed variations in the layers' thickness and composition will yield information about recent climate cycles on the red planet.
New images from NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter show three additional NASA spacecraft that have landed on Mars: the Spirit rover active on the surface since January 2004 and the two Viking landers that successfully reached the surface in 1976.
Engineers are striving to restore full communications with NASA's Mars Global Surveyor on the 10th anniversary of the spacecraft's Nov. 7, 1996, launch. The orbiter is the oldest of five NASA spacecraft currently active at the red planet. Its original mission was to examine Mars for a full Martian year, roughly two Earth years. Once that period elapsed, considering the string of discoveries, NASA extended the mission repeatedly, most recently on Oct. 1 of this year.
NASA's Mars robotic missions are performing so well, they are being prepared for additional overtime work. The team operating the twin Mars Exploration Rovers, Spirit and Opportunity, since January 2004, won approval for an additional year of exploration.
Reporters are invited to observe a NASA Mars prototype drill, controlled by artificial intelligence, bore into a crater in the Canadian arctic. This is the first time artificial intelligence will have completely controlled a drill rig.
NASA's newest spacecraft at Mars has already cut the size and duration of each orbit by more than half, just 11 weeks into a 23-week process of shrinking its orbit. By other indicators, the lion's share of the job lies ahead.
NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida has selected Lockheed Martin Commercial Launch Services Inc. to deliver an Atlas V rocket for the Mars Science Laboratory mission to carry a large rover to the red planet in the fall of 2009. The six-wheeled rover will explore Mars for two years, examining sites to identify where the building blocks for life may exist.
NASA recently updated its World Wind computer program that enables Internet users to explore not only the Earth and the moon, but now permits Web surfers virtually to fly through huge Mars canyons and visit Venus and Jupiter in 3-D color.
NASA's long-lived Mars rovers demand lots of care as they age and the Martian winter approaches. Dr. John Callas, newly named project manager for NASA's Mars Exploration Rover mission, is coordinating the work to meet these challenges.
With a crucially timed firing of its main engines today, NASA's new mission to Mars successfully put itself into orbit around the red planet. The spacecraft, Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, will provide more science data than all previous Mars missions combined.
As it nears Mars on March 10, a NASA spacecraft designed to examine the red planet in unprecedented detail from low orbit will point its main thrusters forward, then fire them to slow itself enough for Mars' gravity to grab it into orbit.
NASA's Mars rovers, Spirit and Opportunity, have been working overtime to help scientists better understand ancient environmental conditions on the red planet. The rovers are also generating excitement about the exploration of Mars outlined in NASA's Vision for Space Exploration.