Special Sub-Topic: My Life as a Mars Rover
|The name of one of the two Mars Rovers that landed on the surface of the red planet in January 2004 is 'Spirit'. What is the name of the other one?|
'Opportunity'. The only two operational rovers are 'Spirit' and 'Opportunity'. Their names are clear examples of the fact that science and innovation are by no means cold or purely rational endeavors, but carry with them deep aspirations of humanity.
|What is the main purpose of the Mars rovers?|
Help scientists track the existence of water on the planet. Although the main aim of the rovers is to track whether water exists or have existed on Mars, and in what form, they also do other kinds of testing that provide scientists with crucial information about the planet. These include their functions to pave the way for human exploration of Mars and determine whether life ever existed on the planet.
|Who is responsible for launching the rovers and controlling the project?|
JPL (Jet Propulsion Lab). JPL is a laboratory of NASA, and was established at California Institute of Technology in the 1930s. They are the primary institution responsible for the rovers, but they also run many other space projects, including the Cassini and Voyager missions.
|What happened to Spirit in May 2009, resulting in it becoming a stationary rover (a striking example of an astronomical oxymoron)?|
It became stuck in soft soil. After attempting for about 9 months to get the rover moving again, JPL finally gave up and resigned themselves to use it as a stationary observation and testing station.
|With such delicate equipment on board, how did the rovers make it safely onto the surface of Mars?|
The rover was folded up in a lander with a protective heat shield. Landing the rovers was a crucial and delicate operation, and could have wrecked the whole project if it had gone wrong!
|For how long did scientists originally believe the rovers would function?|
Around 90 days. 'Spirit' and 'Opportunity' far exceeded their designers' highest hopes, and as such have fulfilled the optimism signified by their names. They are a great success story in the annals of space exploration.
|What is the main source of energy that powers the rovers?|
Solar power. The large solar panels mounted on each of the rovers are one of their most characteristic features, but they are not ordinary. They have special sensors that detect the build up of dust, a great danger in the dusty Martian atmosphere. An electrical charge is used to get rid of dust that may impede the function of the solar panels. Some of the instruments make use of radioactive sources for power.
|How are the rovers' functions and movements controlled?|
Antennae relaying long range radio signals. Not only are the operations controlled from Earth, but the rovers also send their images and information back to Earth with these antennae.
|How do the rovers move about on the rocky surface of Mars?|
On six wheels. The six free moving wheels on each vehicle are what allow the rovers to move about on the rough surface of Mars. Spirit's wheels have given some trouble however, and by 2009 only four of the six were operational.
|What distance has 'Spirit' covered since 2004, before becoming stuck?|
7 kilometers, or 4.2 miles. Although it does not sound like a great distance, the 7 kilometers have yielded much valuable information and many memorable images. Larger scale observations and mapping are handled by units orbiting Mars.
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