MER: Mars Exploration Rover
The mission was started in 2003 and planned to go on for a mere 90 days. NASA initially spent $820 million for the construction, transport, and operation. The rovers are still functioning after more than five years. Quite an achievement considering that the original plan was for only 90 days. The objectives of the Mars Exploration Rover Mission are to search for signs of past water activity, the geologic characteristics of mars, the mineral composition of the rocks and soil, and working with the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter to check data.
The two rovers, Spirit and Opportunity, were named by Sofi Collis through an essay contest. Standing nearly 5 feet tall, 7.5 feet wide, and over 5 feet long, the six wheeled rovers are much larger than previous rovers. They weigh in at 400 pounds each. They are both equipped with several cameras, most notably the MER Panoramic camera which allows for detailed observations, a Miniature Thermal Emission Spectrometer to accurately identify and analyze rocks, soil, and other materials. The “arm” of the rover has many tools, including several spectrometers, magnets, microscopes, and even a digging tool.
There was a brief scare with Spirit in early 2004. A computer bug caused Spirit to go into a fault mode. It took around 10 days for engineers to fix the problem with various tests and updates. The feat of repairing a machine millions of miles away is quite impressive. The data and experience that the rovers have provided is priceless. There appears to be very strong evidence of liquid water on mars in the past, verified by the rover all the way back in 2004. Research into various chemical processes, weather patterns, and water related formations have all been examined in depth. Thanks to these two rovers we are getting some of the most detailed information about Mars’s past environment ever.