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The "Spirit" rover (Mars Exploration Rover A or MER-2) is one of two rovers launched to Mars in mid-2003. The rovers arrived at Mars in January of 2004 equipped with a battery of scientific instruments and will be able to traverse 100 meters a day. The scientific goals of the rover missions are to gather data to help determine if life ever arose on Mars, characterize the climate of Mars, characterize the geology of Mars, and prepare for human exploration of Mars. To achieve these goals, seven science objectives are called for: 1) search for and characterize a variety of rocks and soils that hold clues to past water activity, 2) determine the distribution and composition of minerals, rocks, and soils surrounding the landing sites, 3) determine what geologic processes have shaped the local terrain and influenced the chemistry 4) perform "ground truth" of surface observations made by Mars orbiter instruments, 5) search for iron-bearing minerals, identify and quantify relative amounts of specific mineral types that contain water or were formed in water, 6) characterize the mineralogy and textures of rocks and soils and determine the processes that created them, and 7) search for geological clues to the environmental conditions that existed when liquid water was present and assess whether those environments were conducive to life.

Spacecraft and Subsystems

The Mars Exploration Rover consists of a box-like chassis mounted on six wheels. The chassis contains the warm electronics box (WEB). On top of the WEB is the triangular rover equipment deck, on which is mounted the Pancam mast assembly, high gain, low gain, and UHF antennas, and a camera calibration target. Attached to the two forward sides of the equipment deck are solar arrays which are level with the deck and extend outward with the appearance of a pair of swept-back wings. Attached to the lower front of the WEB is the instrument deployment device, a long hinged arm which protrudes in front of the rover.

The wheels are attached to a rocker-bogie suspension system. Each wheel has its own motor and the two front and two rear wheels are independently steerable. The rover has a top speed of about 3.75 cm per second, but the average speed over time on flat hard ground would be 1 cm/sec or less due to the hazard avoidance protocols. The rover is designed to withstand a tilt of 45 degrees without falling over, but is programmed to avoid exceeding tilts of 30 degrees. The warm electronics box houses the computer, batteries, and other electronic components. The box is designed to protect these components and control their temperature. Thermal control is achieved through the use of gold paint, aerogel insulation, heaters, thermostats, and radiators.

Power is provided by the solar arrays, generating up to 140 W of power under full Sun conditions. The energy is stored in two rechargeable batteries. Communications with Earth are in X-band via the high gain directional dish antenna and the low gain omni-directional antenna. Communications with orbiting spacecraft are through the UHF antenna. The onboard computer has 128 Mb RAM. An inertial measurement unit provides 3-axis information on position.

The rover carries a suite of instruments for science and navigation. The panoramic camera (Pancam) and navigation cameras are mounted on top of the Pancam mast assembly, at a height of about 1.4 meters from the base of the wheels. The mast, mounted at the front of the equipment deck, also acts as a periscope for the Miniature Thermal Emission Spectrometer (Mini-TES). Attached to the end of the instrument deployment device are the Alpha Particle X-Ray Spectrometer (APXS), Mossbauer Spectrometer (MB), Microscopic Imager (MI), and Rock Abrasion Tool (RAT). A magnet array is attached to the front of the equipment deck. Two hazard avoidance cameras are mounted on the front of the rover and two on the rear. The group of science instruments (Pancam, Mini-TES, APXS, MB, MI, and RAT) is known as the Athena science package.

The rover will be compactly stowed in a tetrahedron shaped landing platform and encased in an aeroshell consisting of a heat shield and a backshell for launch, cruise, and atmospheric entry. The lander platform has a mass of 348 kg, the backshell and parachute 209 kg, and the heat shield 78 kg. The cruise stage mass is 193 kg and propellant mass is 50 kg.

Mission Profile

Spirit was launched on a standard Delta II 7925 on 10 June 2003 at 17:58:46.773 UT. After insertion into a circular Earth parking orbit, the spacecraft was despun and the third stage was reignited to put the craft on a trajectory to Mars, after which the aeroshell, lander, and rover separated from the third stage. The cruise phase to Mars ended on 20 November 2003, 45 days before Mars entry. The approach phase lasted from this date until martian atmospheric entry on 4 January 2004. On entry the lander and components had a mass of 827 kg and were travelling at 19,300 km/hr. The aeroshell decelerated the lander in the upper martian atmosphere for about four minutes to a velocity of 1600 km/hr, followed by deployment of a parachute. The parachute slowed the spacecraft to about 300 km/hr. A series of tones was transmitted by the spacecraft during entry and after landing to indicate the successful completion of each phase. Just prior to impact, at an altitude of about 100 m, retrorockets slowed the descent and airbags were inflated to cushion the impact. The craft hit at roughly 50 km/hr and bounced and rolled along the surface. After it stopped the airbags deflated and retracted, the petals opened, and the rover deployed its solar arrays. 04:35 UTC (Local True Solar Time (LTST) 14:25:09) at The landing took place at 04:35 UT on 4 January 2004 (Earth received time), (11:35 p.m. Jan. 3 EST) approximately 2:25 p.m. local time, about one hour before Earth set, in Gusev Crater, at 14.572 S, 175.478 E. (The landing ellipse was centered at 14.82 S, 175.15 E and was 96 km by 19 km oriented at 76 degrees.) About three hours after landing the first images were returned to Earth, showing a flat plain littered with small rocks. Gusev Crater was chosen as a landing site because it has the appearance of a crater lakebed. If Gusev was at one time filled with water, the bottom of the crater may contain sedimentary deposits laid down in the submarine environment.

An egress phase took place over the first few days, involving deployment of the Pancam mast and high gain antenna, rover stand up, imaging and calibration, and selection of proper egress path. The rover drove off the platform onto the surface of Mars on 15 January at 8:41 UT (3:41 a.m. EST). The rover explored Gusev crater, taking images and making scientific measurements, although it lost the use of one of its six wheels.

On 23 April 2009, the rover broke through a thin crust into a pocket of sand that severely limited its mobility. By 1 May it could no longer move at all. Numerous attempts to move the rover were unsuccessful, and the solar panels could not be oriented in a direction to produce enough power to make it through the winter. The last transmission from Spirit occurred on 22 March 2010. The rover travelled a total of 7.73 km over a period of 6 years, 2 months.

Alternate Names

  • 27827
  • MER 2
  • MER-A
  • Mars Exploration Rover 2
  • Mars Exploration Rover A
  • urn:nasa:pds:context:instrument_host:spacecraft.mer2

Facts in Brief

Launch Date: 2003-06-10
Launch Vehicle: Delta II 7925
Launch Site: Cape Canaveral, United States
Mass: 185 kg

Funding Agency

  • National Aeronautics and Space Administration (United States)


  • Planetary Science

Additional Information

Questions and comments about this spacecraft can be directed to: Dr. David R. Williams



NameRoleOriginal AffiliationE-mail
Ms. Joy Anne CrispProject ScientistNASA Jet Propulsion
Dr. Firouz M. NaderiProgram ManagerNASA Jet Propulsion
Dr. James B. GarvinProgram ScientistNASA
Mr. Peter C TheisingerProject ManagerNASA Jet Propulsion

Selected References

  • Crisp, J. A., et al., Mars Exploration Rover mission, J. Geophys. Res., 108, No. E12, 8061, doi:10.1029/2002JE002038, 2003.
  • Squyres, S. W., et al., Athena Mars rover science investigation, J. Geophys. Res., 108, No. E12, 8062, doi:10.1029/2003JE002121, 2003.
  • Squyres, S. W., et al., The Spirit Rover's Athena science investigation at Gusev crater, Mars, Science, 305, No. 5685, 794-799, Aug. 2004.
  • Cook, R. A., The Mars exploration rover project, Acta Astronaut., 57, No. 2-8, 116-120, 2005.
  • Arvidson, R. E., et al., Overview of the Spirit Mars Exploration Rover Mission to Gusev Crater: Landing site to Backstay Rock in the Columbia Hills, J. Geophys. Res., 111, E02S01, doi:10.1029/2005JE002499, 2006.
  • Taylor, J., et al., Chapter 7: Mars Exploration Rover Telecommunications, in Deep Space Communications, J. Taylor Ed., Vol. 13, pp. 263-375, Deep Space Communications and Navigation Series, JPL, Calif. Inst. Technol., Deep Sp. Comm. and Nav. Sys. (DESCANSO), Pasadena, CA, Oct. 2014.

"Spirit" Rover Images From Gusev Crater, Mars

More "Spirit" Images of Gusev Crater

"Opportunity" Images of Meridiani Planum Press Release on the landing - 4 January 2004

Comparison of Spirit, Mars Pathfinder, and Viking Panoramas

Spirit's route on Mars, artist's concept of the rover on Mars and a map of the landing sites showing Gusev and Meridiani

Spirit Spirit Spirit

Mars Exploration Rover "Opportunity" Page

Labelled Diagram of the Mars Exploration Rover

NASA Mars Rovers Braving Severe Dust Storms - NASA Press Release 20 July 2007
Durable Mars Rovers Sent Into Third Overtime Period - NASA Press Release 5 April 2005
Spirit Rolls All Six Wheels Onto Martian Soil - NASA Press Release 15 January 2004
Spirit Lands on Mars and Sends Postcards - JPL Press Release 4 January 2004
Mars Rovers Head for Exciting Landings in January - NASA Press Release 2 December 2003
NASA Selects 28 Participating Scientists for Mars Rover Mission - NASA Press Release 29 May 2002
NASA Plans to Send Rover Twins to Mars in 2003 - NASA Press Release 10 August 2000
Announcement of Rover Option - NASA Press Release 27 July 2000
Mars Pathfinder Rover

Mars Exploration Rover Home Page - NASA JPL

Mars Home Page
Mars Fact Sheet

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