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Home >> Sci-Edu
UPDATED: 13:20, April 06, 2005
NASA approves third extended use of Mars rovers
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The US National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) approved another extension of operation of the twin Mars rovers, Opportunity and Spirit, which have worked 11 months beyond their designed three-month mission, according to a NASA statement on Tuesday.

"Both rovers are in amazingly good shape. We are going to work them hard to get as much benefit from them as we can, for as long as they are capable of producing worthwhile science results," said Jim Erickson, rover project manager at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California.

This was the third extension of the rovers' mission, which would last up to another 18 months, since they landed on the Mars in early 2004.

Erickson cautioned that the rovers would not likely last through September 2006 as any part of a rover may wear out at any time leading to the end of its mission.

Both rovers have shown signs of wear and exposure. The grinding teeth of Spirit's rock abrasion tool might be worn away. Tests last month indicated a problem with Opportunity's miniature thermal emission spectrometer.

However, NASA said all other instruments on both rovers are still working normally.

The rovers have proven their value with major discoveries about ancient watery environments on the Mars. They have surprised engineers and scientists by their continued active exploration beyond designed life.

Scientists said Opportunity and Spirit are approaching targets that seemed well out of reach a year ago. Opportunity is currently a few football fields away from a region called "Etched Terrain," where scientists hope to find rocks exposed by gentle wind erosion and rocks from a different time in the Mars' history than any examined so far.

Spirit is climbing a rocky slope toward the summit of "Husband Hill" before heading down into the "Inner Basin" on the other side. It has made some longer one-day drives last week to allow extra time of observations for scientists.

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