"Spirit and Opportunity are approaching targets that a year ago seemed well out of reach," said Doug McCuistion, director of NASA's Mars Exploration Program. "Their successes strengthen NASA's commitment to a vision with the ambitious targets of returning samples from Mars and sending human explorers to Mars."
Opportunity is within a few football fields' length of a region called "Etched Terrain," where scientists hope to find rocks exposed by gentle wind erosion rather than by disruptive cratering impacts, and rocks from a different time in Mars' history than any examined so far.
"This is a journey into the unknown, to something completely new," said Dr. Steve Squyres of Cornell University, Ithaca, N.Y., principal investigator for the rover's science instruments.
To reach the Etched Terrain, rover planners have been pushing the rover fast. Opportunity has overtaken Spirit in total distance driven. It has rolled more than three miles — eight times the original mission goal. Everyone at JPL and NASA should be damn proud of the success of these two missions.
The next NASA spacecraft to visit Mars is the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO).
A large spacecraft destined to be Earth's next robotic emissary to Mars has completed the first leg of its journey, a cargo-plane ride from Colorado to Florida in preparation for an August launch. NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) is an important next step in fulfilling NASA's vision of space exploration and ultimately sending human explorers to Mars and beyond.
The spacecraft arrived at Kennedy Space Center's Shuttle Landing Facility on April 30 aboard a C-17 cargo plane and was taken to the Payload Hazardous Servicing Facility to begin processing. It was built near Denver by Lockheed Martin Space Systems. Launch is scheduled for Aug. 10 at 7:53:58 a.m. EDT, at the opening of a two-hour launch window.
The spacecraft's prime mission will run through 2010. During this period the project will study Mars' composition and structure, from atmosphere to underground, in much greater detail than any previous orbiter. It also will evaluate possible sites for future Martian landings and will serve as a high-data-rate communications relay for surface missions.