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DPRG: [ news ] Scientists Await Data on Mars Rock

Subject: DPRG: [ news ] Scientists Await Data on Mars Rock
From: Jim Brown jbrown at spdmail.spd.dsccc.com
Date: Mon Jul 7 13:45:20 CDT 1997

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Monday July 7 7:38 AM EDT 

Scientists Await Data on Mars Rock

By Jerry Dubrowski 

PASADENA, Calif. (Reuter) - Scientists hope to learn more about the
secrets of Mars Monday when results of the rover's first encounter with
a multi-colored rock called "Barnacle Bill" become available.

The Sojourner, a six-wheeled vehicle about the size of a microwave oven,
was scheduled to back up to the rock and begin a 10-hour sampling period
late Sunday. By inserting its alpha proton X-ray spectrometer into
"Barnacle Bill," scientists are hoping to learn how the planet was formed,
what changes occurred over the years and whether life ever existed on

Mission leaders at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory here were eagerly
awaiting the results of the test, although they warned the rover's
current position may not yield perfect results because the Sojourner
is at a slight angle to the rock.

"It's not a perfect match," said Matt Wallace, a member of the
driving team.

Nevertheless, scientists were anxious to get a look at the rock because
its surface is only partially covered with the rust-covered dust that
seems to coat almost the entire planet. By examining the uncovered portion
of "Barnacle Bill", scientists hope to learn more about the rock's

The Sojourner's mission, which was described as the robotic equivalent of
Neil Armstrong's historic landing on the moon in 1969, is clearly the
high point for the $266 million project.

For NASA, the Pathfinder mission is also a way to renew interest in space
exploration and showcase the technological advances made since the first
Viking probes landed on Mars 21 years ago.

Unlike Viking 1, which took a year to determine where it was on the
planet's surface, the Pathfinder was able to pinpoint its location in a
single day. And the images that have come back from Pathfinder -- and
instantly transmitted around the world via the World Wide Web -- have
been nothing short of spectacular.

On the horizon of the landing site, scientists can see a twin-peaked area
with what appears to be a white-colored "ski slope" on one side and a
series of horizontal bands on the other. Scientists believe the features
were formed by a series of devastating floods that covered the region
billions of years ago.

"These are all indications of water activity," Ronald Greeley, one of the
mission scientists from Arizona State University said Sunday.

Once the Sojourner completes its examination of "Barnacle Bill," the rover
will examine a larger rock, dubbed "Yogi", after the cartoon bear
character. It might then move on to other rocks nicknamed "Casper" and
"Flat Top", also named after cartoon characters.

The Sojourner, with its solar panels and nifty spiked wheels, is something
of a technological marvel in its own right. Designed on a shoestring
budget of $25 million, the vehicle is capable of climbing over rocks and
rough terrain, using its three on-board cameras to navigate.

But the centerpiece of the rover's design is an X-ray probe that will
press against the surface of a rock and feed back valuable data that
scientists can use to determine what Mars is made of.

Pathfinder crash-landed on Mars Friday after a seven-month journey of 309
million miles since being launched from Cape Canaveral.

The mission marks the beginning of an ambitious U.S. program over the next
decade to explore Mars and determine if it ever supported any life forms.

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If only I had a shoestring budget of $25 mill to build a robot!

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Jim Brown                jbrown at spdmail.spd.dsccc.com or jbrown at why.net
                         http://www.dprg.org (Next meeting July 12th)

Work:  972-519-2868      My employer won't claim these opinions.    
Home:  972-495-3821      So I'm giving them away for free.   


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