Accessibility links

EXPLORATIONS - June 18, 2003: Mars Rover Vehicles - 2003-06-17


(THEME)

VOICE ONE:

This is Steve Ember.

VOICE TWO:

And this is Phoebe Zimmermann with the VOA Special English program EXPLORATIONS. Today we tell about the latest efforts by America’s space agency to explore the planet Mars. The first of two Mars exploration vehicles was launched June tenth. Another Mars rover vehicle is expected to be launched June twenty-fifth.

(THEME)

VOICE ONE:

Our report about the launch of the Mars Exploration Rover begins with a nine-year-old girl named Sofi Collis. She was born in Siberia, Russia and lived in a home for children who have no parents. At age two, she was brought to the United States by Lauri Collis who became her mother. Sofi now lives in the southwestern city of Scottsdale, Arizona.

Sofi Collis entered and won a contest to name the two Mars Exploration Rovers. Her suggestion was among ten-thousand names that were entered.

The names of the two Mars Exploration vehicles became official on June eighth. NASA Administrator Sean O’Keefe said the names suggested by Sofi Collis explain the task of the two NASA flights. The names are “Spirit” and “Opportunity.”

VOICE TWO:

At the naming ceremony, Sofi Collis read the reasons why she suggested the names. She said, “I used to live in an orphanage. It was dark and cold and lonely. At night, I looked up at the sky and felt better. I dreamed I could fly there. In America, I can make all my dreams come true. Thank you for the “Spirit” and the “Opportunity.”

The Mars Exploration Rover named Spirit was launched Tuesday. But Sofi’s dream of flying has not ended. She now wants to become an astronaut.

(MUSIC)

VOICE ONE:

The Spirit rover was launched from Cape Canaveral, Florida. NASA officials said the launch was almost perfect. Mars rover project manager Pete Theisinger said officials were extremely happy with the launch. Scientists on Earth will perform several tests during the next few months. The tests will inspect many of the rover’s systems.

The scientists will have six chances to change or correct the flight path of the spacecraft. They may do this to make sure the rover arrives at the right place to begin landing.

Plans call for the Spirit rover to land on Mars on January fourth, two-thousand-four. NASA has chosen two scientifically interesting landing areas for the Spirit and Opportunity rovers to explore the surface of Mars.

The Spirit rover will land in an area that may have once been a lake. The area is called the Gusev Crater. It is fifteen degrees south of the Martian equator.

The Opportunity rover will land on the opposite side of Mars at the end of January. It will land in an area called the Meridiani Planum. It is an area that shows evidence of minerals that usually form in liquid water. This is close to the Martian equator and halfway around the planet from the landing area of Spirit. Each Mars Exploration Rover will examine its landing area for evidence of past liquid water activity.

Each will also look for past environmental conditions that could have supported life. NASA officials say the two areas are very different and will provide two kinds of evidence about liquid water in the history of Mars.

(MUSIC)

VOICE TWO:

Ed Weiler is a NASA official for space science. Mister Weiler said landing on Mars is very difficult, especially on some parts of the planet. He said NASA officials had to choose areas that had scientific value when making the decision about where to land the rovers. He said they also had to consider the safety of the Mars rovers when choosing a landing area. Mister Weiler says NASA officials have done everything they can to make sure the rovers have the best chance of success.

VOICE ONE:

The Spirit and Opportunity rovers should enter the atmosphere of Mars next January. At first, they will slow down in the upper atmosphere of Mars using a flat protective device called a heat shield. The shield protects against the fierce heat caused by the great speed of the spacecraft.

A parachute will then deploy to slow the spacecraft. Huge balloon air bags will deploy when it nears the surface of Mars. The balloons will cause the rovers to bounce along the ground until they slow down. The balloons will also protect the rovers. Experts say the rovers may bounce as many as twelve times and travel as far as one kilometer before they come to rest.

When the spacecraft stop, the air will be released from the balloons. Then the spacecraft will open. This will bring the rovers into a standing position.

The rovers will immediately begin using their cameras to broadcast pictures of the immediate area. It will then leave the spacecraft and move away to begin exploring the surface of Mars.

(MUSIC)

VOICE TWO:

The Spirit and Opportunity rovers each weigh about one-hundred-eighty kilograms. They are expected to travel as many as forty meters each Martian day. They are expected to last at least ninety Earth days but could continue longer depending on the condition of the two vehicles.

One of the major problems the two rovers face is the extreme cold of the Martian night. The coldest atmospheric nighttime temperature they can expect is about one-hundred degrees below zero Celsius. Special heater devices will help keep the rover’s electronic and science equipment protected from the extreme cold.

VOICE ONE:

Each rover carries five scientific instruments. They also carry special tools that can cut away the surface of rocks. These tools are used to expose the inside of rocks for examination. Each rover carries special cameras. The rovers will take photographs of the minerals inside the rocks. The cameras will also be used to choose the most interesting rocks for inspection.

The rovers also carry an instrument called the Thermal Emission Spectrometer. This instrument will examine the area to identify different kinds of minerals. A major goal of this device is to find unusual minerals that are formed by the action of water. The spectrometer will also be used with the rover’s camera to choose new areas to explore.

VOICE TWO:

The rovers also carry an instrument called the Mossbauer Spectrometer. It is used to examine rocks for evidence of minerals that contain iron. It will help scientists learn if water was part of the formation of these minerals. This device is a very small version of devices used by scientists to study rocks and soil on Earth.

Another instrument carried by both rovers is called the Microscopic Imager. This device examines soil and rocks to find out how those rocks and soil were formed. For example, the size and shape of very small rocks and soil will show how they were moved and placed in the area being inspected.

(MUSIC)

VOICE ONE:

The scientific devices and the cameras on the Spirit and Opportunity will provide photographs and measurements each day. Scientists will command the vehicles to go to rock and soil targets of interest and to study them. The first rock and soil studies will be near the landing areas. But later studies will be done as far from the landing areas as possible. During the three months of planned exploration the rovers are expected to travel almost one kilometer to search for evidence of water.

NASA officials say that the equipment carried on each of the rovers is almost equal to a geologist – a scientific expert on soil and rocks. These mechanical geologists will move across the surface of Mars searching for the most interesting soil and rocks to examine.

VOICE TWO:

Cathy Weitz is a Mars Exploration Rover program scientist at NASA headquarters. She says the rovers are NASA’s effort to understand the importance of water on Mars. She says the rovers will be used to find rocks and soil that could provide evidence about wet environments in the history of the planet.

Orlando Figueroa is the director of the Mars Exploration program at NASA. He says NASA sees the Spirit and Opportunity as the first steps in Mars exploration for the next ten years. He added that the rovers will provide the knowledge necessary for human exploration of Mars in the future.

(THEME)

VOICE ONE:

This program was written by Paul Thompson and produced by Mario Ritter. Audio assistance was provided by Sulaiman Tarawaley. This is Steve Ember.

VOICE TWO:

And this is Phoebe Zimmermann. Join us again next week for another EXPLORATIONS program in Special English on the Voice of America.

XS
SM
MD
LG