At 11:53 PM EST Saturday night NASA's Spirit Mars Lander returned tones indicating that it had landed and was upright and functioning, after a multi-million mile journey from Earth to Mars. Two out of three Mars missions have failed, most recently the British Beagle 2 mission, which has not yet reported back after its landing.
With Mars currently 106 million miles from Earth, it takes approximately 10 minutes for signals to reach here from the lander.
Early Sunday, the lander began sending back its first pictures of its immediate surroundings in the Gusev Crater.
The rover component of the lander carries a panoramic camera, a microscopic imager, a number of navigation cameras and other instruments. These include a miniaturized thermal emission spectrometer which can determine the mineral composition of rock from a distance, a Mossbauer spectrometer especially designed to determine the composition of iron-rich rock, and an x-ray spectrometer which will determine the elemental chemistry of rocks and soils.
Also carried on the mission is a magnet array designed to capture dust particles. It is possible that this instrument might pick up traces of water ice if they are present in the atmosphere.
If the instruments function properly, the mission will return more information by far about the Martian surface than all other Mars mission combined.
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