Thunderstorm on Earth delays exploration on Mars
A thunderstorm on Earth slowed down the pace of exploration on Mars more than a million miles away on Wednesday, delaying plans for the robot rover Spirit to make an historic first drilling into a martian rock.
Mission managers said that heavy rain, lightning and thunder in Canberra, Australia, had prevented mission controllers at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California from transmitting command sequences from the Canberra large dish antenna complex to Spirit on its 18th day on the red planet.
“As a result of the rain in Canberra, the signal strengths were not able to be received by the rover so we were not able to transmit those commands to the rover. It didn’t get all the data we wanted it to get,” Spirit mission manager Jennifer Trosper told a media briefing.
NASA scientists had planned to instruct Spirit to use its Rock Abrasion Tool (RAT) — one of a number of complex gadgets on the six-wheeled rover — to drill into a pyramid-shaped rock dubbed Adirondack about two meters away from its landing site.
The RAT uses a grinding wheel to remove dust and weathered rock, exposing fresh rock underneath. It can then grind down to a depth of 5 millimeters (0.2 ins).
Trosper called the planned RAT operation an important “first time activity” in man’s 40-year quest to discover the geologic history of Mars and whether it was ever sufficiently warm or wet enough to sustain a recognizable form of life.
Spirit rolled off its lander on Jan. 15 and has only just begun a planned three-month exploration of the surface of the Gusev Crater — a barren, wind-swept basin that scientists believe may have been the site of an ancient lake bed once fed by a Martian river. —Reuters