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Spirit Rolls

NASA's Mars rover Spirit has rolled off its lander and onto Martian soil for the first time.

NASA

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January 15, 2004: NASA's Mars Exploration Rover Spirit successfully drove off its lander platform and onto the soil of Mars early today. The robot's first picture looking back at the now-empty lander and showing wheel tracks in the soil set off cheers from the robot's flight team at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL).

Above: After Spirit rolled onto Mars, it looked back and took this picture of its lander. A 3D version of the image is also available. View it using red-blue glasses. [more]

In the control room, engineers played Baha Men's "Who Let the Dogs Out" as they watched new images confirming that Spirit had successfully exited its lander platform.

"Spirit is now ready to start its mission of exploration and discovery. We have six wheels in the dirt," said JPL Director Charles Elachi later.


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Since Spirit landed inside Mars' Gusev Crater on Jan. 3 (PST and EST; Jan. 4 Universal Time), JPL engineers have put it through a careful sequence of unfolding, standing up, checking its surroundings and other steps leading up to today's drive-off.

The command to roll off the lander was sent to Spirit at 12:21 a.m. PST today. Twenty minutes later Spirit had moved onto the martian soil. The drive moved Spirit 3 meters (10 feet) in 78 seconds, ending with the back of the rover about 80 centimeters (2.6 feet) away from the foot of the egress ramp, said JPL's Joel Krajewski, leader of the team that developed the sequence of events from landing to drive-off.

"There was a great sigh of relief from me," said JPL's Kevin Burke, lead mechanical engineer for the drive-off. "We are now on the surface of Mars."

With the rover on the ground, an international team of scientists assembled at JPL will be making daily decisions about how to use the rover for examining rocks, soils and atmosphere with a suite of scientific instruments onboard.

Left: This image from the rover's front hazard identification camera shows the rover's view of the martian landscape from its new position northwest of the lander. [more]

"Now, we are the mission that we all envisioned three-and-a-half years ago, and that's tremendously exciting," said JPL's Jennifer Trosper, mission manager.

Spirit was launched from Cape Canaveral on June 10, 2003. Now that it is on Mars, its task is to spend the rest of its mission exploring for clues in rocks and soil about whether Gusev Crater was ever watery and suitable for life. (Read the Science@NASA story "Destination: Gusev Crater" for more information about this.)

Spirit's twin Mars Exploration Rover, Opportunity, will reach Mars on Jan. 25 (EST and Universal Time; 9:05 p.m., Jan. 24, PST) to begin a similar examination of a site on the opposite side of the planet.

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