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SPIRIT'S SURROUNDINGS BECKON IN COLOR PANORAMA




    Submitted by Arthur - N1ORC

    Donald Savage
    Headquarters, Washington                    January 12, 2004
    (Phone: 202/358-1547)

    Guy Webster
    Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.
    (Phone: 818/354-5011)

    RELEASE: 04-020

    SPIRIT'S SURROUNDINGS BECKON IN COLOR PANORAMA

         The first 360-degree color view from NASA's Spirit Mars
    Exploration Rover presents a range of tempting targets from
    nearby rocks to hills on the horizon.

    "The whole panorama is there before us," said rover science-
    team member Dr. Michael Malin of Malin Space Science Systems,
    San Diego. "It's a great opening to the next stage of our
    mission."

    Spirit's flight team at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory
    (JPL), Pasadena, Calif., continues making progress toward
    getting the rover off its lander platform, but expected no
    sooner than early Thursday morning. "We're about to kick the
    baby bird out of its nest," said JPL's Kevin Burke, lead
    mechanical engineer for the rover's egress off the lander.

    The color panorama is a mosaic stitched from 225 frames taken
    by Spirit's panoramic camera, or Pancam. It spans 75 frames
    across, three frames tall, with color information from shots
    through three different filters. The images were calibrated
    at Cornell University, Ithaca, N.Y., home institution for Dr.
    Jim Bell, Pancam team leader.

    Malin said, "Seeing the panorama totally assembled instead of
    in individual pieces gives a much greater appreciation for
    the position of things and helps in developing a sense of
    direction. I find it easier to visualize where I am on Mars
    when I can look at different directions in one view. For a
    field geologist, it's exactly the kind of thing you want to
    look at to understand where you are."

    Another new image product from Spirit shows a patch of
    intriguing soil near the lander in greater detail than an
    earlier view of the same area. Scientists have dubbed the
    patch "Magic Carpet" for how some soil behaved when scraped
    by a retracting airbag.

    "It has been detached and folded like a piece of carpet
    sliding across the floor," said science-team member Dr. John
    Grotzinger of Massachusetts Institute of Technology,
    Cambridge.

    Spirit's next step in preparing to drive onto the surface of
    Mars is to sever its final connection with the lander
    platform by firing a cable cutter, which Burke described as
    "an explosive guillotine." The planned sequence after that is
    a turn in place of 115 degrees clockwise, completed in three
    steps over the next two days. If no obstacles are seen from
    images taken partway through that turn, drive-off is planned
    toward the northwestern compass point of 286 degrees.
    Spirit landed on Mars Jan. 3 (EST) after a seven-month
    journey. Its task is to spend the next three months exploring
    rocks and soil for clues about whether the past environment
    in Gusev Crater was ever watery and suitable to sustain life.
    Spirit's twin Mars Exploration Rover, Opportunity, will reach
    Mars Jan. 25 (EST) to begin a similar examination of a site
    on a broad plain called Meridiani Planum, on the opposite
    side of the planet from Gusev Crater.
    NASA JPL, a division of the California Institute of
    Technology, Pasadena, manages the Mars Exploration Rover
    project for NASA's Office of Space Science, Washington.
    For information about NASA and the Mars mission on the
    Internet, visit:
    http://www.nasa.gov
    Additional information about the project is available on the
    Internet at:
    http://marsrovers.jpl.nasa.gov
    Mission information is also available from Cornell
    University, at:
    http://athena.cornell.edu


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