- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 1, 2005

NASA has released a full-color panorama of Husband Hill on Mars taken by the rover Spirit.

Husband Hill was named after Col. Rick D. Husband, commander the doomed Space Shuttle Columbia flight two years ago. Also visible in the panorama is Clark Hill, named after Columbia crew member Cmdr. Laurel B. Clark. The hills named after the other five astronauts killed in the disaster are too far away to be seen.

In the image, taken from a location nicknamed “Larry’s Lookout,” many of the planet’s features are visible.

“This is certainly the most spectacular pan which Spirit has acquired,” said NASA scientist Steve Squyres. “We’re higher up, you can see out on the plain in both directions east and west. … The higher we get, the more we see. This is, I think, the most striking image yet from Spirit just visually in terms of pure scenery.”

The Spirit rover landed on Mars in January 2004. Spirit had a goal of lasting 90 Sols — Martian days that are about 40 minutes longer than an Earth day — but the scientists were cautiously optimistic that the Spirit and its sister rover, Opportunity, could last longer.

Their optimism turned out to be well-founded.

Spirit and Opportunity are a year beyond their “expiration” dates and remain in good working order.

Spirit is examining an outcrop of exposed bedrock named Methuselah, Mr. Squyres said.

“We found a beautiful exposure of finely layered bedrock, which is where we’re parked right now. Methuselah, I really think, is the best outcrop of layered bedrock that Spirit has ever found.”

Bedrock is important to researchers, Mr. Squyres said, because it represents “geologic truth.”

“If you find a piece of loose rock sitting on the ground, you don’t know where it came from, it’s out of context,” he said. “You have no idea where it came from, how it originated, did it come from its current location or was it transported here from somewhere else? When you find bedrock, it means this rock grew up right here — this is where it was born. That helps enormously in that interpretation.”

Methuselah turned out to be a large expanse of finely layered bedrock.

“I’m really fascinated to find out what this stuff is like,” Mr. Squyres said.

Mr. Squyres said science will drive Spirit’s next move.

“We could be here awhile,” he said. “The timer’s no longer ticking on survival and getting around to the other side of the hill. We’ll stay there as long as it takes to get all of the information we can get out of this outcrop. We’ll see.”

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