NASA’s Spirit rover explores Mars

If you haven’t heard, things went terribly wrong with the Spirit rover on Mars. Hopefully by now things are close to being corrected. In the spirit of Spirit, here is a positive spin on the Spirit rover’s instrumentation.

What’s a rover without cameras? Spirit rover has 10 of them; one was just for photographing the descent to Mars. Two of the remaining nine are fish-eyed; that is, they have a very wide angle that shoots black and white in stereo. These cameras are called Hazmans because they are made to help characterize potential hazards while the rover is in the process of driving. Two more pairs of cameras are mounted atop a 1.5-meter mast in front of the rover. One pair is a set of wide-angle stereo cameras, which provide even more stereo coverage of the terrain around the rover so the ground can be modeled and navigated.

The two other cameras on the mast are stereo color cameras called Pancams. These cameras are designed to obtain very high resolution multi-spectral images of Mars by using ultraviolet wave lengths of light. One camera is a small microscopic image on rover’s arm designed to take images of regions only a few tens of millimeters across. All rover’s cameras will provide information on geology and topography. The Pancams’ color capabilities provide some amount of compositional information.

Rover has three spectrometers. One is mounted deep inside the rover and uses the camera mast as a periscope to detect infrared light (heat) from Mars’ surface. That information helps determine the mineral makeup on the viewed Martian surface. The other two spectrometers are mounted on the rover’s arm. One measures the abundance of different elements in the soil. The other is designed specifically to identify iron-bearing minerals, long known to be present on Mars’ surface, which gives it a reddish color.

A rock abrasion tool (RAT) is on the rover. RAT is mounted on the arm and was made to scrape coatings or rinds off rocks so the spectrometers and microscope can investigate the makeup of the rocks examined.

Several other instruments noteworthy are magnets to trap different components of magnetic airborne dust. The rover also has special wheels for trenching and rock scraping experiments. Another tool or group of tools are the calibrators that provide reference information for the cameras and spectrometers. No way have I covered all of rover’s instruments, but I’ve covered the main ones.

I hope this clears things up a little. The Spirit rover is much more than a full-metal surface badger. Basically, the rover is a many-minded scientist that wants to learn about Mars and teach billions of Earthlings about Mars. There has never been a teacher built like this one, and we pray the serious problems afflicting Spirit rover can be corrected. NASA officials believe Spirit rover has reams of information, is over-backlogged and is trying to learn how to lighten its memory by sending information Earthward. Keep gazing.

Rod Myers is a local resident with an interest in the environment and disability issues. He has an associate’s degree in science and a bachelor’s in fine arts. Rod is a member of the Audubon Society, the Wild Ones Natural Landscapers and Rockford Amateur Astronomers, Inc.

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