In first trip, rover goes for a martian stroll to outcrop of rocks
Other unit resumes work after glitch with its software
PASADENA, Calif. -- NASA took the rover Opportunity on its first substantial drive on Mars, a trip across pebbly soil that appears to be unlike anything seen on the planet, scientists said yesterday.
Opportunity rolled forward about 11 feet yesterday, approaching an outcrop of rocks that scientists want to spend days studying. It was the first time the rover had moved since leaving its lander Saturday.
Scientists planned for Opportunity to roll 5 more feet today. That should put the slabs of rock within reach of the rover's robotic arm.
Scientists skipped plans for the rover to conduct more soil tests on the way to the outcrop, choosing instead to reach as quickly as possible a feature on the rocks they have nicknamed "Snout."
On the far side of the planet, the twin rover Spirit resumed its science work yesterday after being stalled for two weeks with software problems, project manager Pete Theisinger said. Scientists have planned for Spirit to brush off and examine the surface of a volcanic rock, he said.
Spirit could begin rolling again by the weekend, moving toward a crater 800 feet away -- a trip that could take a month.
The software problems have stymied its half of the $820 million mission to find evidence that the planet was once wetter and more conducive to life.
Scientists planned for Opportunity to spend several days at the "Snout" and spend several more driving alongside the rocks, said scientist Larry Soderblom of the US Geological Survey.
Then Opportunity could turn its attention to the martian soil, spinning one of its front wheels to dig into a spot rich in the iron-bearing mineral hematite. Opportunity previously looked at a patch of soil that contained very little of the iron oxide, which typically forms in water.
National Aeronautics and Space Administration scientists also have pinpointed where Opportunity landed, Theisinger said. The rover is inside a shallow depression about 2,300 feet west of a larger crater, he said.