The Spirit Rover Begins Its Martian Journey

Ten years ago today — June 10, 2003 — a Delta 2 rocket launched from Cape Canaveral carrying Mars Exploration Rover A, or “Spirit.”


(“Spirit” Mars Exploration Rover. NASA image.)

Spirit was one of two rovers designed to traverse the Martian surface to search for evidence of life, characterize the Martian climate and geology, and improve our understanding of Mars in advance of sending people to explore. Spirit’s twin, named “Opportunity,” launched a month later. Their mission’s scientific objectives were to:

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.

The rovers landed successfully on Mars in January 2004. They originally were only supposed to operate for 90 Martian days (a little over 92 Earth days), but Spirit operated until March 2010 and Opportunity is still going.

In other space history …

The same day Spirit launched, Sea Launch placed the Thuraya 2 communications satellite in orbit from the Odyssey platform. Thuraya 2 is owned by the United Arab Emitrates, and provides service to the Middle East, India, etc., from geostationary orbit.*

And on this date 40 years ago, the Radio Astronomy Explorer B — also known as Explorer 49 — launched from Cape Canaveral on a Delta rocket. Its sister spacecraft, RAE-A (or Explorer 38), had been launched in July 1968. RAE-B conducted radio atronomy from an orbit around the Moon, and operated until 1977.

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*Noted primarily because I like Sea Launch, having gone on one of their launch campaigns.

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Return to Flight for Sea Launch

Now there’s a space history headline that’s hard to parse out of context!

Five years ago today — January 15, 2008 — Sea Launch successfully placed a payload in orbit from its floating launch platform, after a year-long hiatus due to a previous launch failure.


(Thuraya 3 launch. Image linked from Sea Launch web site.)

The payload was Thuraya 3, a communications satellite for the United Arab Emirates. The Zenit 3SL rocket lifted off from the Odyssey launch platform while the vessel held position along the equator, almost due south of Christmas Island in the Pacific Ocean.

I have a soft spot in my heart for Sea Launch, having spent a lot of time at their Long Beach headquarters and gone to sea with them in 2002 for the Galaxy IIIC launch, so it was great to see them have another launch success.

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Satellite Radio Adds Roll to its Rock

Ten years ago today — May 8, 2001 — the Sea Launch team launched the XM-1 or “Roll” satellite from the Odyssey launch platform.


(XM-1 “Roll” launch from the Sea Launch platform. Image from www.sea-launch.com.)

In our “Satellite Radio in Space History” item, we noted the launch of XM-2, or “Rock” — so with this launch XM Radio officially had its Rock and Roll.

My time on the Pacific with Sea Launch came in the summer of 2002, and it’s still one of the coolest temporary duty assignments I ever had.

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Satellite Radio in Space History

Ten years ago today — March 18, 2001 — XM-Radio launched its first satellite.


(XM-2 launch. Sea Launch photo. Click to enlarge.)

Known as XM-2, or XM “Rock”, the spacecraft was launched by Sea Launch from the converted oil well platform “Odyssey.” A few weeks later, in May of 2001, another Sea Launch Zenit-3SL rocket launched XM-1, nicknamed XM “Roll”. Today, the XM portion of SiriusXM Radio uses similar spacecraft known as “Rhythm” and “Blues.”

A few years after this launch, I got to go out on a Sea Launch mission as one of the space technology security monitors for the Defense Technology Security Adminsitration. As I’ve said before, it was one of the most interesting temporary duty assignments of my Air Force career.

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Congrats, Sea Launch

Going out on a Sea Launch mission was one of the highlights of my Air Force career — my e-mail updates to folks at the time were entitled, “Join the Air Force, go to sea” — so when I saw on Spaceflight Now that Sea Launch put up a new satellite for DISH Network, I thought congratulations were in order.

If only I’d had the blog going then. Just goes to show, timing is everything.

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