News coverage spotlights WUSTL’s role in Mars exploration

NASA’s 2004 Rover Mission to Mars has been in the planning and testing phase for years, and Washington University faculty, staff and students have been involved from the start. Now that the twin rovers are busy exploring Mars, WUSTL continues to be closely involved in the mission. For the latest on the mission, here’s a quick chronology of NASA news releases and other media coverage that highlight some aspect of WUSTL’s role in the mission. These links will be updated frequently as the mission moves ahead.

Artist's rendition of the rover on Mars.
Artist’s rendition of the rover on Mars.

Note: Raymond Arvidson, Ph.D., McDonnell Distinguished University Professor and chair of Earth and Planetary Sciences in Arts & Sciences, is the mission’s deputy principal scientist. Other Earth and Planetary Sciences faculty, students and staff working with the mission’s Athena Science Payloard include: undergraduate student and Rhodes Scholar Bethany Ehlmann; Earth and Planetary Sciences doctoral candidate Frank Seelos; graduate student Jennifer Ward; Larry Haskin, Ph.D., professor; Bradley Jollif, Ph.D., research associate professor; Alian Wang, Ph.D., senior research scientist; Ed Guinness, senior research scientist; Tom Stein, computer systems manager; and Margo Mueller, assistant to Arvidson. Roger Phillips, Ph.D., professor of earth and planetary sciences, and director of the McDonnell Center for Space Sciences, helped Arvidson and others select the landing sites for the rovers but is not working at JPL. Arvidson will remain at JPL all of spring semester, as will most of the Washington University faculty working on the mission.

Mars Misson Updates, Related Background LInks

Mars rovers search high and low
June 10, 2004, USA Today – Mars rovers are going up and down, NASA scientists said June 9 — down into a tantalizing crater and up into long-sought hills.

Now well past the planned 90-day duration of their missions, the Opportunity and Spirit rovers face new terrain and the cold Martian winter in coming weeks.

At Spirit’s landing site, the Connecticut-sized Gusev crater, scientists report signs that water once percolated near the surface. A mineral similar to Epsom salts, which makes up as much as 15 percent of the subsurface dirt, is evidence of the long-evaporated water, says mission chief scientist Steve Squyres of Cornell University.

At Gusev, engineers will drive the Spirit rover into nearby hills over the next month, looking for bedrock that could hold evidence of an ancient lake.

At Meridiani, Opportunity will drive down a rock face of the crater Endurance during the next week. It also seeks water clues in bedrock. There was concern that Opportunity might not be able to get back out of endurance. Engineers tested a model rover on slopes lined with stones and sand before giving the go-ahead.

Taking time to trench
May 27, 2004, Pasadena, Calif. (Jet Propulsionn Laboratory) — Spirit roved an impressive 109.5 meters (359.3 feet) on sol 134. Two hours of the drive were guided by the autonomous navigation system. After the long traverse, Spirit completed an hour of post-drive science observations with the panoramic and navigation cameras and mini thermal emission spectrometer. The rover finished the sol healthy and ready for another day on Mars.

After so much driving on sol 134, Spirit got a break and spent sol 135 doing in-situ science investigations of its surroundings. It began the sol observing nearby soil with the alpha particle X-ray spectrometer and Moessbauer spectrometer. It then used the microscopic imager to see the soil up close. After stowing the instrument deployment device, Spirit used its wheels to dig a trench and then imaged the trench with the cameras on the mast.

Spirit’s odometer now reads 2,585.52 meters (1.6 miles). The rover still has 680 meters (0.42 miles) to go before reaching the base of the “Columbia Hills,” but will likely get there before sol 160.

Opportunity on the edge
May 26, 2004, Pasadena, Calif. (Jet Propulsionn Laboratory) — On Sol 115 Opportunity drove 11.7 meters (38.4 feet), coming to rest about 3 meters (10 feet) from the edge of “Endurance Crater,” as intended. Rover planners had commanded Opportunity to go 10 centimeters (3.9 inches) farther, but the rover decided to stop when it “saw” the edge of the crater in the navigation camera images. This was actually a more conservative response than necessary, as it would have been safe to complete the drive. Rover planners are looking into changing the way they send commands to prevent this over-conservatism next time.

Opportunity used its navigation camera to acquire images showing its proximity to the crater. On Sol 116 Opportunity turned slightly to the right and crept a little closer to the edge of Endurance Crater to get into just the right position to set up camp for a few sols. The rover executed this 1.5 meter (4.9 feet) traverse as planned, ending up facing northwest with a total tilt of about 8 degrees pitched “nose-up.” From this position, Opportunity will make many observations with the panoramic camera and mini thermal emission spectrometer to fully characterize the parts of the crater that can be seen from here. Opportunity now sits only about 1 meter from the edge of the crater, and there is a sloping drop-off of about 40 degrees dead ahead.

Spirit, Opportunity rove on
May 18, 2004, Pasadena, Calif. (Jet Propulsionn Laboratory) — Opportunity is healthy, but feeling a bit. sluggish because of the rover’s 40-meter (131 feet) traverse along the southern edge of “Endurance Crater” on sol 111, and a sol 112 error with a Deep Space Network command transmission have resulted in a low battery state of charge. The sol 111 drive put Opportunity on an 8-degree slope that tilted the rover away from the Sun and limited the amount of direct sunlight that could reach the solar panels.

To help the battery recover to its normal state of charge, rover planners had built a sol 112 plan that deleted two of the three UHF windows. Unfortunately, a Deep Space Network configuration error prevented the command load from reaching Opportunity on sol 112 and, as expected in such cases, the rover executed the onboard run-out sequence, which included an hour of remote sensing and the three on-board UHF communication windows. Sol 113 will be a sol for sleep and recharging for Opportunity. On sol 114 (Thursday, 5/20) , the rover will do some limited remote sensing in the morning, but will generally take it easy over the next few sols in order to fully charge the batteries. The limited activity over the next few sols will focus on moving towards the Endurance Crater rim and a new position for panoramic camera imaging.

Spirit continuies its drive toward the “Columbia Hills.” The rover has put approximately 70 more meters (229.7 feet) on its odometer. After the drive, Spirit took observations with the panoramic camera, navigation camera and mini thermal emission spectrometer.

Spirit has completed a panoramic camera observation of a rock target called “Flat Head.” And embarked on a 90-meter (295 feet) drive toward the hills. Once the drive was complete, Spirit completed its standard post-drive observations.

Spirit has 2,291.92 meters (1.4 miles) on its odometer and is approximately 936 meters (.6 miles) from Columbia Hills. The rover is on track to reach the Columbia Hills by sol 160.

Mars Rover Arrival at Deeper Crater Provides a Tempting Eyeful
May 6, 2004, (Jet Propulsionn Laboratory) — Scientists and engineers celebrated when they saw the first pictures NASA’s Opportunity sent from the rim of a stadium- sized crater that the rover reached after a six-week trek across martian flatlands.

Multiple layers of exposed bedrock line much of the inner slope of the impact crater informally called “Endurance.” Such layers and their thicknesses may reveal what the environment on Mars was like before the salty standing body of water evaporated to produce the telltale rocks that were explored in the tiny “Eagle” Crater. That’s where Opportunity spent its first eight weeks on Mars.

“It’s the most spectacular view we’ve seen of the martian surface, for the scientific value of it but also for the sheer beauty of it,” Dr. Steve Squyres of Cornell University, Ithaca, N.Y., said about a color panorama of Endurance Crater released at a news conference today at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif. He is the principal investigator for the science instruments on both Opportunity and its twin Mars Exploration Rover, Spirit.

In coming days, Opportunity will circle the rim of Endurance, observing the crater’s interior from various angles. Scientists and engineers have begun to identify interesting science targets and assess how difficult it would be for the rover to descend partway into the crater and climb back out. “We will need to decide whether the science is compelling enough to send the rover into a crater it might never leave, or whether to explore other sites first before entering Endurance,” said Orlando Figueroa, director of the Mars Exploration Program, NASA Headquarters, Washington.

Looking at Fram Crater
April 22, 2004, (Jet Propulsion Laboratory) — Opportunity got an up-close look at the rocky nature of “Fram Crater” as it approached the crater on sol 85, which ended at 2:13 p.m. CDT on April 20. After some morning remote sensing, the rover drove to the target rock dubbed “Pilbara,” near the crater rim. The wake-up song was “Take Me Out to the Ball Game!” by Jack Norworth in honor of all the baseball-related target names chosen this sol. Plans called for Opportunity to grind into Pilbara with its rock abrasion tool on sol 86.

Rover engineers back in ‘real world’ — ‘Tootin’ glad
April 12, 2004, Pasadena, Calif. (Pasadena Star-News) — The Jet Propulsion Laboratory crews that control NASA’s twin Mars Rovers have switched back to Pacific Daylight Time after living on martian time since Jan. 4. Life for the team of engineers controlling NASA’s dynamic duo of Mars rovers from JPL has changed now that the Spirit rover has smoothly transitioned into its extended mission.

“For one thing, we’re sleeping at normal times,’ said Mark Adler, Spirit’s mission manager. “We’re back in the real world.’

On Jan. 4, the day following Spirit’s initial touch-down on the Red Planet, the engineering and science teams working on the rovers began living on “Mars time.’ For nearly three months, they reported to work at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory as though they were living on Mars. And since martian days last about 40 minutes longer than Earth days, their schedules cycled around the clock, forcing them to show up in the middle of the night at times.

They even blacked out the windows in their work-space in a casino-esque attempt to fool their bodies into thinking they were on regular schedules.

Now, as of March 29 for Spirit and this past Monday for Opportunity, their respective teams have returned to Earth time and taken down their window shades.

“So we can realize that we are actually still on Earth,’ Adler said. The engineers will remain on Earth time for the remainder of the mission, which NASA has extended through mid-September.

Ray Arvidson, deputy principal investigator for the mission from Washington University in St. Louis, said it took him about four days to adjust back to Earth time, a process he compared to getting over a bad case of jet-lag from a trip to Europe.

“We’re just tootin’ glad to be on Earth time,’ he said.

Mars rovers keep going and going and going. . .
April 8, 2004, Pasadena, Calif. (AP) — NASA gave its twin Mars rovers the green light to continue searching the Red Planet for evidence it once was a wetter place hospitable to life.

The five-month, $15 million extension to the already $820 million mission means Opportunity and Spirit could keep exploring Mars through September – nearly three times longer than originally budgeted.

Dust, cold and mechanical wear-and-tear could curtail the lifetime of either or both rovers, however, said Firouz Naderi, manager of the Mars exploration program at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

For Opportunity, the move gives it time to build on the evidence it already has found that water once bathed its landing site on Mars, allowing it to visit at least four outcrops of rock, said Washington University’s Ray Arvidson, the mission’s deputy main scientist.

The first outcrop Opportunity analyzed, within the small crater it landed in Jan. 24, revealed that standing water, perhaps a salty sea or swamp, once covered Meridiani Planum.

For Spirit, working since Jan. 3 in Gusev Crater on the other side of planet, similar evidence of abundant past water activity has been elusive.

NASA will lose touch with the rovers Sept. 13, when Mars passes behind the sun. The blackout should leave Earth out of contact with the two rovers for a week to 10 days, Naderi said.

If NASA can re-establish contact with the rovers once Mars pops back into view, the agency could further extend operations, Naderi added.

Spirit moving toward hill named for late astronaut
April 7, 2004 — The plucky Mars rover Spirit is going toward a hill named for Amarillo astronaut Rick Husband. Spirit landed on Mars on Jan. 6. Its landing spot was designated the “Columbia Memorial Station” in honor of Husband and his six crewmates who died Feb. 1, 2003, when the space shuttle Columbia broke up over Texas.

Within a couple of days after Spirit landed on Mars, scientists were able to pinpoint its location by looking at overhead photos of the site taken by the Mars Global Surveyor spacecraft passing overhead. A set of seven hills to the southeast that were used to determine Spirit’s location were named for the Columbia astronauts.

The hill named after Husband is 1.9 miles to the southeast of where Spirit landed. Within a day, project scientist Steve Squires announced the long-range plan for Spirit: Go to the nearby crater, nicknamed Bonneville, and after exploring its rim, turn right and head for the Columbia Hills.

“I can’t think of anything more exciting to do in terms of exploring” Squires said.

The Columbia Hills are an island of older rock surrounded by a younger volcanic layer that covers the plain Spirit has been crossing, said Dr. Ray Arvidson of Washington University, St. Louis. Older rocks may hold evidence of an ancient body of water.

Amarillo Globe: Read full story

On to Columbia Hills (background).  Rover Spirit is wrapping up its tasks at Crater Bonneville.
On to Columbia Hills (background). Rover Spirit is wrapping up its tasks at Crater Bonneville.

On to Columbia Hills for Spirit
March 30, 2004 — Once Spirit wraps up its observations of Crater Bonneville, it will begin the long journey to reach the Columbia Hills, located 2.3 kilometres away. The trip is likely to take 2-3 months, because the rover will stop along the way to analyze anything of interest; some potential targets are a few smaller craters and some trails left by dust devils. The rover’s final task at Bonneville will be to analyze some light-coloured rock on the crater’s rim. Spirit has been on the surface of Mars for 12 weeks now.NASA’s Spirit will begin trekking toward hills on its eastern horizon in the next few days, entering a new phase of the rover’s exploration of Mars just before its prime three-month mission ends and its extended mission begins, rover team members said today.

The range of peaks named “Columbia Hills” is an island of older rock surrounded by a younger volcanic layer which surfaces the plain that Spirit has been crossing, said Ray Arvidson , Ph.D., professor and chair of earth and planetary sciences at Washington University in St. Louis. He is deputy principal investigator for the science payload on both Spirit and its twin rover, Opportunity.

Older rocks may hold evidence of an ancient body of water thought to have once filled Gusev Crater. Spirit landed inside that 150-kilometer-wide (95-mile-wide) crater 12 weeks ago, and the rover’s main task is to find geological clues about whether the region ever had a wet environment. Spirit has spent much of its time since landing driving toward a 200-meter-wide (660-foot-wide) crater nicknamed “Bonneville.” Rover scientists had anticipated that the impact that excavated Bonneville might have ejected rocks old enough to hold clues about whether Gusev held water.

“The ejecta from Bonneville didn’t get excavated from deep enough to get below the volcanic layer,” Arvidson said. So, after finishing an examination of a light-colored rock on the crater’s rim, Spirit will head for the hills.

— Universe Today: Read full story

Standing Body of Water Left Its Mark in Mars Rocks
March 24, 2004 — NASA’s Opportunity rover has demonstrated some rocks on Mars probably formed as deposits at the bottom of a body of gently flowing saltwater.

“We think Opportunity is parked on what was once the shoreline of a salty sea on Mars,” said Dr. Steve Squyres of Cornell University, Ithaca, N.Y., principal investigator for the science payload on Opportunity and its twin Mars Exploration Rover, Spirit.

Clues gathered so far do not tell how long or how long ago liquid water covered the area. To gather more evidence, the rover’s controllers plan to send Opportunity out across a plain toward a thicker exposure of rocks in the wall of a crater.

NASA’s Associate Administrator for Space Science Dr. Ed Weiler said, “This dramatic confirmation of standing water in Mars’ history builds on a progression of discoveries about that most Earthlike of alien planets. This result gives us impetus to expand our ambitious program of exploring Mars to learn whether microbes have ever lived there and, ultimately, whether we can.”

This magnified view from Opportunity of a portion of a martian rock called
This magnified view from Opportunity of a portion of a martian rock called “Upper Dells” shows fine layers (laminae) that are truncated, discordant and at angles to each other. Interpretive black lines trace cross-lamination that indicates the sediments that formed the rock were laid down in flowing water. The interpretive blue lines point to boundaries between possible sets of cross-laminae.

“Bedding patterns in some finely layered rocks indicate the sand-sized grains of sediment that eventually bonded together were shaped into ripples by water at least five centimeters (two inches) deep, possibly much deeper, and flowing at a speed of 10 to 50 centimeters (four to 20 inches) per second,” said Dr. John Grotzinger, rover science-team member from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, Mass.

In telltale patterns, called crossbedding and festooning, some layers within a rock lie at angles to the main layers. Festooned layers have smile-shaped curves produced by shifting of the loose sediments’ rippled shapes under a current of water.

“Ripples that formed in wind look different than ripples formed in water,” Grotzinger said. “Some patterns seen in the outcrop that Opportunity has been examining might have resulted from wind, but others are reliable evidence of water flow.”

Spirit and Opportunity make measurements, take pictures
March 22, 2004 — Spirit woke up on sol 77, which ended at 8:24 a.m. PST on March 22, 2004, to “One Step Closer” by the Doobie Brothers, since the rover was to make its final approach to the rock target named “Mazatzal” today.

Before beginning the .9-meter (2.95 feet) drive to Mazatzal, Spirit analyzed the soil target “Soil 1” at its current location with the microscopic imager and Mössbauer spectrometer. During the Mössbauer integration, Spirit also took panoramic camera images and performed miniature thermal emission spectrometer analysis of the atmosphere and Mazatzal work area.

At 1:25 p.m. Mars Local Solar Time, Spirit completed the Mössbauer integration, took a few microscopic imager images of the impression left on “Soil 1” by the Mössbauer spectrometer and then stowed the instrument arm. Spirit then proceeded the short distance toward Mazatzal and took hazard avoidance camera images to confirm that its final resting place put the intended rock targets in reach of the instrument arm.

Following the drive, the rover acquired more panoramic camera and mini thermal emission spectrometer observations of the atmosphere, and of interesting areas near the Mazatzal site including targets named “Sandbox,” “Saber” and “Darksands.”

Spirit finished up sol 77 by getting the mini thermal emission spectrometer in position for morning observations on sol 78.

Spirit will spend most of Sol 78, which will end at 9:04 a.m. PST on March 23, analyzing Mazatzal with the instruments on the robotic arm.

NASA’s Opportunity tried driving uphill out of its landing-site crater during its 56th sol, ending at 10:05 p.m. March 21, PST, but slippage prevented success. The rover is healthy, and it later completed a turn to the right and a short drive along the crater’s inner slope. Controllers plan to send it on a different route for exiting the crater on sol 57.

Earlier on sol 56, Opportunity successfully examined a patch of soil dubbed “Brian’s Choice” with its Moessbauer spectrometer, alpha particle X-ray spectrometer and microscopic imager. Following the drive, it made observations with its navigation camera and miniature thermal emission spectrometer. Wake-up music for the sol was “Fly Like an Eagle,” by the Steve Miller Band.

Spirit breaks its own observations record
March 15, 2004 — Spirit began what would be a very busy sol 70, which ended at 3:47 a.m. PST March 15, by analyzing a soil target dubbed “Gobi 1” with the Mössbauer spectrometer. This was the first of 43 observations that Spirit would complete on sol 70, breaking the previous observation record of 31 observations in one sol.

After the successful Mössbauer integration, Spirit took panoramic camera images of the sky. Then the miniature thermal emission spectrometer analyzed rock and soil targets. Following this, Spirit turned its panoramic camera and miniature thermal emission spectrometer to a range surface and atmospheric observations. Before the sol ended, Spirit also took microscopic images of the Mössbauer footprint left on the soil target and switched instruments to the alpha particle X-ray spectrometer for a long integration starting early on sol 71 at the “Gobi 1” location.

Spirit will spend Sol 71, which will end at 4:26 a.m. PST March 16, completing the alpha particle X-ray spectrometer analysis, taking panoramic camera images and microscopic imager images of the area, and then driving 15 meters (49.2 feet) to a location dubbed “Serpent Dune” in the afternoon.

Volcanic Rock in Mars’ Gusev Crater Hints at Past Water
March 05, 2004 — NASA’s Spirit has found hints of a water history in a rock at Mars’ Gusev Crater, but it is a very different type of rock than those in which NASA’s Opportunity found clues to a wet past on the opposite side of the planet. A dark volcanic rock dubbed “Humphrey,” about 60 centimeters (2 feet) tall, shows bright material in interior crevices and cracks that looks like minerals crystallized out of water, Dr. Ray Arvidson of Washington University, St. Louis, reported at a NASA news briefing today at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif. He is the deputy principal investigator for the rovers’ science instruments.

NASA: Opportunity Rover Finds Strong Evidence Meridiani Planum Was Wet
March 2, 2004 — Scientists have concluded the part of Mars that NASA’s Opportunity rover is exploring was soaking wet in the past. Evidence the rover found in a rock outcrop led scientists to the conclusion. Clues from the rocks’ composition, such as the presence of sulfates, and the rocks’ physical appearance, such as niches where crystals grew, helped make the case for a watery history. “Liquid water once flowed through these rocks. It changed their texture, and it changed their chemistry,” said Dr. Steve Squyres of Cornell University, Ithaca, N.Y., principal investigator for the science instruments on Opportunity and its twin, Spirit. “We’ve been able to read the tell-tale clues the water left behind, giving us confidence in that conclusion.”

A close up of the rock dubbed
A close up of the rock dubbed “El Capitan.”

MSNBC: Scientists are abuzz over Martian findings
March 1, 2004 — Evidence that suggests Mars was once a water-rich world is mounting as scientists scrutinize data from the Opportunity rover, busily at work in a small crater at Meridiani Planum. That information may well be leading to a biological bombshell of a finding that the Red Planet has been, and could well be now, an extraterrestrial home for life. “Opportunity’s research is a “work in progress,” said Ray Arvidson, deputy principal investigator for the Mars Exploration Rover project from Washington University in St. Louis. Data is being gathered to present “a coherent story,” he said during a press briefing last Thursday. “That story is right around the corner,” Arvidson told “But we need to finish this work in progress, finish the set of experiments, get the data down from the spacecraft, processed and analyzed. Then I think that the story will be known.”

Astrobiology Magazine: Riding into a Martian Sunset
March 1, 2004 — Dust gradually obscures the Sun during a blue-sky martian sunset seen in a sequence of newly processed frames from NASA’s Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity. . . Go to NASA’s sunset animation.

Voice of America: Spirit Enters Rocky Terrain on Mars
Feb. 27, 2004 — The U.S. Mars rover Spirit has entered the rockiest terrain it has encountered since arriving in January, as it heads for a crater to search for signs that water once flowed on the red planet. . . .Washington University geologist Ray Arvidson says the rovers are still acquiring data, but adds that by the conclusions of their three-month missions in April, the information should reveal whether liquid water did or did not flow in large amounts on Mars ages ago. “I wouldn’t be surprised but that we will be able to say a lot about the role of water or not in terms of these two particular sites,” he said. “Water is the elixir of life and if we come up with the conclusion that water has been involved in the surface or subsurface at some time in the past, then I think the probability that prebiotic systems could have been generated and life could have gotten started goes way up.”

The Pantagraph (Bloomington-Normal, Illinois): “Working with Spirit”
Feb. 27, 2004 — A Heyworth High School science teacher and two of her students are studying Mars at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory — one “sol” at a time. A sol is a Martian day − 39 minutes longer than an Earth day − and that is how Christine Gregory and juniors Sarah Hulen and Ashley Johnston have been reckoning time since they started working with the Spirit rover on Sunday. . . .”It’s not that they’re off to the side doing things. They’re fundamentally a part of the mission operations,” said Ray Arvidson, the scientist with whom they are working. “They’re really a member of the extended science team.”

This is a composite red-green-blue image of the rock called White Boat.
This is a composite red-green-blue image of the rock called White Boat.

NASA: Mars Sunset Clip from Opportunity Tells Dusty Tale
Feb. 26, 2004 — Dr. Ray Arvidson of Washington University, St. Louis, deputy principal investigator for the rovers’ science work, predicted that in two weeks or so, Opportunity will finish observations in its landing-site crater and be ready to move out to the surrounding flatland. At about that same time, Spirit may reach the rim of a larger crater nicknamed “Bonneville” and send back pictures of what’s inside. “We’ll both be at the rims of craters,” he said of the two rovers’ science teams, “one thinking about going in and the other thinking about going out onto the plain.” Not counting occasional backup moves, Spirit has driven 171 meters (561 feet) from its lander. It has about half that distance still to go before reaching the crater rim. The terrain ahead looks different than what’s behind, however. “It’s rockier, but we’re after rocks,” Arvidson said.

Associated Press: Scientist says rovers getting data to answer key Mars questions
Feb. 26, 2004 − NASA’s twin Mars rovers are sending home the kind of geologic data that should answer the question of whether the two landing sites on the Red Planet were ever wet enough to have allowed life to develop, a top mission scientist said Thursday. A confident but carefully worded assessment of the progress of the $820 million effort was offered at a Jet Propulsion Laboratory news conference by Ray Arvidson, the deputy principal scientist, who emphasized that the work of the Spirit and Opportunity rovers was a “work in progress.” “I think toward the end of the standard mission (90 martian days for each rover) we will have a lot of information, and I wouldn’t be surprised but that we’ll be able to say a lot about the role of water – or not – in terms of these two particular sites,” said Arvidson, of Washington University in St. Louis.

NASA: Two Working Rovers on Martian Soil Expected by Saturday Morning
Jan. 30, 2004 — Ground controllers plan to tell Opportunity to drive off its lander early Saturday, and with Spirit now back in working order, NASA should soon have two healthy rovers loose on Mars. . . Dr. Ray Arvidson of Washington University in St. Louis, deputy principal investigator for the rover science instruments, said, “We’re totally ecstatic that we’re going to be on the surface.”

NASA: Spirit Ready to Drive onto Mars Surface
Jan. 14, 2004 — NASA’s Spirit completed a three-stage turn early today, the last step before a drive planned early Thursday to take the rover off its lander platform and onto martian soil for the first time. . . .”This is an historic opportunity,” said Dr. Ray Arvidson of Washington University in St. Louis, deputy principal investigator for the science instruments on Spirit and on its twin Mars Exploration Rover, Opportunity. “The intent is to get observations from above and to get observations from below at the same time to do the best possible job of determining the dynamics of the atmosphere.” The Mars Express observations are also expected to supplement earlier information from two NASA Mars orbiters about the surface minerals and landforms in Spirit’s neighborhood within Gusev Crater.

NASA: Rover Airbag to Get Another Tug
Jan. 07, 2004 — The engineers and scientists for NASA’s Spirit are eager to get the rover off its lander and out exploring the terrain that Spirit’s pictures are revealing, but caution comes first. An added “lift and tuck” to get deflated airbag material out of the way extends the number of activities Spirit needs to finish before it can get its wheels onto martian ground . . .Dr. Ray Arvidson of Washington University in St. Louis, Mo., deputy principal investigator for the rover’s science instruments, said the science team gathered in Pasadena has been offering diverse theories for how the landscape surrounding Spirit was shaped, and anticipating ways to test the theories with the rover’s instruments. “A lake bed is typically flat, with very fine-grain sediments,” Arvidson said. “That’s not what we’re looking at. If these are lake sediments, then they’ve been chewed up by impacts and rocks have been brought in.”

NASA: Preparing for robotic exploration of Mars with a rover named FIDO
Summer 2002 — When the two Mars Exploration Rovers arrive at the red planet in January 2004, mission scientists will rely on them to make discoveries. To prepare for intense operations during the mission, NASA’s scientists and engineers work with a rover here on Earth called FIDO. In a description of testing on SOL 17 (Martian Day 17) of the mission, Arvidson describes the significance of the day’s findings: “We anticipate these mud cracks telling us two major things: what modern processes were at work to form this now very dry valley, and if there are regions within the valley that have recently been wet, thus providing what may be habitable zones within this extreme environment ,” explains Arvidson. To answer these questions and others, scientists will request a number of tests including images from the Microscopic Imager and dig a shallow trench with the rover’s wheel.

NASA: FIDO rover’s Mojave Desert test mission yields ‘Ray’s Clays’
Summer 2002 — Ray Arvidson, a geologist from Washington University, nearly jumped for joy when he discovered a mineral named, “Kaolinite” in some clays in the FIDO landing site area. If he would have found the same mineral in mud-like material on Mars, he would have “run down the street waving the papers!”

NASA: Long Term Planning team keeps FIDO test mission on track
Summer 2002 — The Long-Term Planning team does what the title implies. While other science teams are busy figuring out what the data from the rover instruments mean and are planning on what the very next observations and measurements should be, the LTP team thinks about what the rover should be doing two, three, five, or even ten sols down the road. “We constantly interact with other science team members,” says scientist Brad Joliff from Washington University in St. Louis, “and we get just as caught up in the moment-to-moment excitement as everyone else on the team.”