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Launch of Mars Rover Delayed Further

May 30, 2003|Usha Lee McFarling | Times Staff Writer

The first of two rovers headed to Mars will be launched no earlier than June 8, NASA officials said, marking the second liftoff delay for the project.

Jim Erickson, mission manager of the $800-million Mars Exploration Rover project at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, said Thursday that the spacecraft appeared to be in good shape for launch. The spacecraft has already been rolled out to the launch pad at Cape Canaveral in Florida and hoisted to the top of the Boeing Delta II rocket that will carry it into space.

"The vehicle's entered what we call the Boeing part of the flow," Erickson said. "It's all going really well."

The launch is scheduled for 11:05:55 a.m. June 8, with a backup launch window at 11:44:07 a.m.

An identical Mars rover is scheduled to launch June 25. The rovers are expected to land on two locations on Mars in January 2004.

The May 25 launch date for the first rover was delayed to June 5 after problems were found in the spacecraft wiring. Those problems were fixed but a second launch delay -- to June 8 -- was then called to allow additional engineering reviews of the spacecraft. Today, engineers are scheduled to conduct a "mission-readiness review" that Erickson said was one of the last major hurdles before officials at NASA headquarters make a final commitment to launch the spacecraft.

The complex, 400-pound rovers dwarf the Sojourner rover that landed on Mars in 1996. The "robot geologists" will examine two areas on Mars -- Gusev Crater and Meridiani Planum. Both sites appear to have been shaped by surface water, raising the possibility the planet may have once harbored life.

"What was the environment like when the rocks formed? That's the primary question," said Joy Crisp, a JPL geologist and project scientist. "Was liquid water involved? Was it around for a long time? Was it warm or cold? And was it conducive to life?"

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