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  • Space Facts: Mars Exploration Rovers

    At 384 pounds, each Mars Exploration Rover is more than 17 times as heavy as the Mars Pathfinder rover. It is also more than twice as long (at 5.2 feet) and tall (4.9 feet).

    Artist's conception of a Mars Exploration Rover. Image courtesy NASA/JPL.
    More than 100 Mars experts examined a list of 155 potential landing sites before selecting Meridiani Planum and Gusev Crater as the target spots for Opportunity and Spirit.

    Both rovers launched from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, with Spirit lifting off June 10, 2003 and Opportunity on July 7, 2003.

    Within the safety of its lander, Spirit coasted to a parachute-assisted touchdown on the Martian surface on Jan. 4, 2004.

    Opportunity followed with a landing on Mars on Jan. 25, 2004.

    Spirit traveled 487 million kilometers, or 303 million miles, to reach Mars.

    Opportunity flew 456 million kilometers (283 million miles) from Earth.

    Both rovers have identical suites of five scientific instruments: a panoramic camera, a miniature thermal emission spectrometer, a Moessbauer spectrometer, an alpha particle X-ray spectrometer, and a microscopic imager.

    These rovers' science instruments work in conjunction with the rock abrasion tools, which allow scientists to study hidden layers of rock, and magnetic targets, which collect Martian dust.

    The names of the rovers-Spirit and Opportunity-were chosen through a student essay contest that drew nearly 10,000 essays.

    The rovers are operating long after the end of their primary missions in April. They have continued to uncover a multitude of clues that strongly suggest a past history of water on Mars.

    Spirit's instrument deployment device poised in front of the rock nicknamed Adirondack. Photo courtesy NASA/JPL.

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