June 10 – Grok This

Today’s Factismal: The Spirit Rover was launched eleven years ago on a ninety-day mission; it would spend more than six years exploring Mars.

Though it is only about the size of Earth’s core, no other planet captures the imagination like Mars. From Schiaparelli’s first mistaken sketches of the fictional canals to the brazen Martian attack on our holiday traditions and attempts to take over the Earth to our current exploration program, Mars has intrigued, exasperated, and enticed us as no other planet can. Unlike the other planets, it is just barely possible for a human being to survive on Mars (provided he wears a scuba suit and a space heater), making it our best option for colonization and human exploration.

Mars as seen from Texas (My camera)

Mars as seen from Texas
(My camera)

But before we can send humans, we have to send probes to scout out the lay of the land. Right now, we have probes mapping the landscape with lasers, probes checking the atmosphere, and probes taking high resolution photos of the  landscape. But the problem with most probes is that they stay in one place on the ground or orbit high above the planet. In order to truly know the planet, we need to land on it and move around a bit. We need a rover.

A simulated image of Spirit on Mars (Image courtesy NASA)

A simulated image of Spirit on Mars
(Image courtesy NASA)

And the Spirit Rover was one of the best. Launched on June 10, 2003, it landed on Mars just six months later and spent more than six years moving around the surface, providing us with more information about where water might once have flowed. And water wasn’t the only thing that Spirit helped us look for; it also found such surprising things as a dust devil flitting about the surface and unusual rock formations.

A dust devil on Mars as seen by Spirit (Image courtesy NASA)

A dust devil on Mars as seen by Spirit
(Image courtesy NASA)

And the exploration of Mars goes on today with Spirit’s twin Opportunity and their younger but much bigger brother Curiosity. If you’d like to get involved, then why not Be A Martian? The NASA site allows you to explore Mars using actual photographs and other data taken by the Martian rovers. Who knows? You may discover something exciting!

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