January 8, 2004

What It Took to Give Mars the Spirit

The saga of the Spirit on Marsis only just beginning, and many have seen the various animations from NASA on the landing. But if you want to backtrack all the way to the launch pad, Rocket Man's: How Spirit got to Mars is the place to go for an astute and, frankly, mind-boggling account of just want it takes to ship 408 pounds of science experiments to the Red Planet.

Spirit was launched aboard a Delta II 7925 from Cape Canaveral on June 10, 2003. The Delta II consisted of 3 separate stages and 9 solid rocket motors. The launch vehicle weighed almost 527,000 lbs and on top of it, enclosed inside the payload fairing, was the Spacecraft. The entire spacecraft weighed a total of 2,343 lbs, but the Spirit rover weighed only 408 lbs. So for every 1 lb of rover that would make it to the surface of Mars, 1,296 lbs of launch vehicle and spacecraft were required to be launched from the surface of the Earth.

The enormous amount of energy required to get landers all the way to the Martian surface imposes severe restrictions on the design of the vehicles, which is why it is no easy feat to have a successful mission. There are a lot of critical systems that have absolutely no backup, and if one of them fails, the whole mission will fail. Which is why every component, system and subsystem on a planetary probe is rigorously tested prior to launch, and it is also one of the reasons why these types of missions cost a lot of money.

But when all those critical systems work perfectly you get spectacular data, as these pictures from the Spirit rover show.

Read the rest for a step-by-step, stage-by-stage account.

[Seen at Belmont Club

Posted by Vanderleun at January 8, 2004 3:36 PM
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Don't know if you have seen this news: " Technion scientists play role in Mars images"
"Research by three scientists at the Haifa Technion made possible the transmission of pictures from the Mars explorer "Spirit," according to HP (Hewlett Packard) Labs, which was responsible for the image transmissions."

Posted by: Barry at January 9, 2004 6:24 AM