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Sojourner, meet Barnacle Bill


Rover takes stock of rocks on fourth rock from the sun

July 7, 1997
Web posted at: 12:18 a.m. EDT (0418 GMT)

PASADENA, California (CNN) -- Mars Pathfinder's rover Sojourner -- awakened from Martian nighttime slumber by a blast of the theme song from the TV show "Mad About You" -- set off on its first full day of work Sunday evening.

Its mission? Turn around, travel 36 centimeters (about 1 foot), bump into a rock NASA workers nicknamed Barnacle Bill, and sniff it a bit.

The slow-moving Sojourner (it creeps just 1 centimeter a second) is still only about two meters (6 feet) from where it was before it began its descent down ramps to the Martian surface early Sunday morning.

Scientists at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California have now calculated the official time of the rover's Neil Armstrong moment: 1:38 a.m. EDT Sunday (0538 GMT).

For the time being, however, the rover's control team plans to keep Sojourner from roving very far.


"We'll probably be sticking close to the lander early on and getting the easiest science opportunities out first," said Brian Cooper, the man who "drives" the rover from 120 million miles away, using a computer screen, a joy stick and three-dimensional goggles.

NASA news conference
Black and white panorama of Pathfinder site, taken from still photos
video icon 1MB/30 sec. Small QuickTime movie

However, because of distance and the delay in sending commands, Cooper does his navigation while Sojourner is sleeping, using images sent from the lander for guidance. The information is stored and sent later, so the rover usually moves while Cooper snoozes.

'Sniffer' to take closer look at rock

After bumping up against Barnacle Bill -- which got its name because of barnacle-like structures that appeared in images beamed back to Earth -- Sojourner will activate APXS, short for alpha proton X-ray spectrometer. The device, referred to colloquially by the JPL team as the "sniffer," will allow scientists on Earth to determine the chemical composition of the rock.

Pathfinder image gallery

The first information from APXS is expected to arrive on Earth late Monday afternoon. The next stop for the 22-pound mobile geologist? Probably a larger nearby rock which JPL workers nicknamed Yogi Bear for more sniffing.

Sojourner's cameras will also be taking the first images of Pathfinder's landing craft, the Sagan Memorial Station, so NASA scientists can learn more about how it handled its crash landing onto the Martian surface.

As Sojourner is cruising through the flour-like Martian dust, a camera on the Sagan station will be busy taking a detailed, 360-degree panoramic image of the Martian vista -- in full color -- that will be transmitted to Earth Sunday or Monday.

Problem communications link now 80 percent

The first pictures from Mars - a slide show
video icon 740K/30 sec. QuickTime movie

Deployment of the rover was delayed a day after a communications link between Sojourner and the Sagan station failed to work properly. NASA scientists say they still don't know what caused the glitch. They said Sunday that about 80 percent of the information is now getting through.

Rover engineer Matt Wallace says getting the rover off of the lander and onto Mars proper was one of the most difficult hurdles in Sojourner's mission. With that now behind them, the rover team plans to spend the next few days getting a feel for navigating the craft around the fourth rock from the sun.

"Certainly, we will continue to expect surprises in some sense," said Jacob Matijevic, Mars rover manager. "I think the first couple of days here is an opportunity for us to sort of test some things out with the vehicle, give us a little bit of experience in driving on the surface and getting to various locations."

Goldin: Mars rocks may give clues about Earth

On CNN's "Late Edition with Frank Sesno," Sunday, NASA Administrator Daniel Goldin said the information gained from analyzing the Martian rocks may give scientists a greater understanding of how natural forces work on Earth.

"On Earth there is a crustal motion which destroys the history in the rocks," Goldin said. "On Mars the rocks were not recycled ... so we can find rocks on Mars, we believe, much older than the rocks on Earth."

Miami Bureau Chief John Zarrella contributed to this report.

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