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Science File

Glitch Could Hamper Mars Rover's Work

August 09, 2003|From Associated Press

An instrument aboard one of the two NASA rovers en route to Mars has malfunctioned, prompting worries it could harm the robot's information-gathering ability, a Cornell researcher said.

The instrument could still determine the presence of iron-bearing minerals in the rocks and soil on Mars, but not their relative abundance, Steve Squyres of Cornell University said Wednesday. Some of that information could be derived from the rover's other instruments, however.

"We would be able to extract some science from the data," said Squyres, lead scientist on the package of instruments carried on the twin rovers, Spirit and Opportunity.

Scientists do not understand the cause of the glitch, but they have five months to come up with a remedy. Spirit is expected to land on Mars on Jan. 3, followed by Opportunity on Jan. 24.

The instrument -- a Moessbauer spectrometer -- malfunctioned during tests last week.

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