ROAMING THE RED PLANET

SQUADRON PART OF ROVER'S SUCCESS
By Sue Walden, 45th Space Wing PA

Patrick AFB FL, Jan 30, 2004 (AFPN) - The 45th Space Wing can now put two more historical milestones under its belt: the successful landings of the twin Mars exploration rovers on the red planet.

Opportunity touched down on its target, Meridiani Planum, shortly after midnight Jan. 25, joining its twin, Spirit, which landed on the other side of Mars at Gusev crater on Jan. 4. The wing's 1st Space Launch Squadron launched the rovers June 10 and July 7 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station

“Talk about job satisfaction,” said Lt. Col. Brad Broemmel, 1st SLS commander. “I'm swept at once by a sense of both tremendous pride and humility. Humility in realizing we represent just a small part of the Mars exploration team, but pride in knowing the whole world is watching the results of our work.” www.nasa.gov

The Mars mission examines geological evidence of past water activity and prior environmental conditions hospitable to life. So far, both rovers have awed scientists and the world with crisp photos of the planet, officials said. Despite a delay in Spirit's roll off its lander because of software glitches and an airbag blocking its way, the rover's soil and rock analyses have already surprised NASA scientists. The soil sample results revealed a mineral called olivine, yielding a much stronger, more cohesive structure to the soil, officials said. Scientists theorized the soil would be dust-like and collapse with little weight. The presence of olivine and the lack of weathering might be evidence that the soil particles are finely ground volcanic material, officials said.

Spirit also drove to a rock called “Adirondack” for an examination of its make-up. The flat-surfaced rock is theorized to be a volcanic rock and is undergoing testing. Opportunity's landing site is rich with deposits of a mineral called stystalline hematite, which usually forms in the presence of water, officials said. Officials said both landing areas give NASA scientists high hopes that they will learn a planet-full about Mars' environmental and perhaps answer the ultimate question: Was there life on Mars?

The 1st SLS has been associated with space launches such as Mars Odyssey, Genesis and Deep Space-1. Colonel Broemmel said the keys to his squadron's success are teamwork and mission focus.

“Teamwork means synchronizing actions from coast to coast — from the drawing board to the launch pad; from the factory floor to orbit,” he said. “Along the way, rigorous processes and procedural discipline require everyone to focus on each tail number, each spacecraft, each mission, to ensure (global positioning system) satellites, Mars Rovers and everything in between reach their destination “

“It is that teamwork and mission focus that has the world looking at and learning from the twin rovers. The results are a testament to the dedication and professionalism of everyone at Patrick and the Cape Kennedy Space Center, the 45th Space Wing and our mission partners deserve to take pride in these historic accomplishments,” Colonel Broemmel added.

For more information about the Mars mission, including the latest photos from the rovers, visit www.nasa.gov