Spirit Rover Touchdown 12 Years Ago Started Spectacular Martian Science Adventure

Twelve Years Ago, Spirit Rover Lands on Mars. This mosaic image taken on Jan. 4, 2004, by the navigation camera on the Mars Exploration Rover Spirit, shows a 360 degree panoramic view of the rover on the surface of Mars.   Spirit operated for more than six years after landing in January 2004 for what was planned as a three-month mission. Credit: NASA/JPL

Exactly 12 Years ago this week, NASA’s now famous Spirit rover touched down on the Red Planet, starting a spectacular years long campaign of then unimaginable science adventures that ended up revolutionizing our understanding of Mars due to her totally unexpected longevity.For although she was only “warrentied” to function a mere 90 Martian days, or sols, the six wheeled emissary from Earth survived more than six years – and was thus transformed into the world renowned robot still endearing to humanity today. Spirit even became the first Martian mountaineer! – ascending up and descending down ‘Husband Hill’.And to top that off, Spirit was only one half of a marvelous sister act of NASA’s Mars Exploration Rovers (MER) that continues to this day.Her younger twin sister Opportunity endures today, trundling forth on the opposite side of the Red Planet continuing to expand on their jointly established heritage of endless groundbreaking discoveries.Together they each conducted the first overland expeditions on another planet. In essence they are truly the first long roving “Martians.”Jan. 3 marks the 12th anniversary since Spirit’s safe landing on the plains of Mars inside 100-mile-wide Gusev crater on Jan. 3, 2004, after smashing into the thin Martian atmosphere and surviving the harrowing descent and scorching temperatures dubbed the “Six Minutes of Terror!”Twin sister Opportunity likewise plummeted through the Martian atmosphere and landed on the plains of Meridiani on the opposite hemisphere three weeks later – on Jan. 24, 2004.After carefully choreographed retro rocket, parachute and airbag assisted landings both sisters bounced some two dozen times while carefully cushioned inside their cocoon like carriers, before rolling to a stop, unfolding and driving down from the three petaled lander pedestal days later onto the alien terrain to begin their research expeditions.The goal was to “follow the water” as a —> Read More