Exploring the Planets

Mars Rovers: Spirit

The Journey of Spirit
An important factor in selecting Mars Exploration Rover landing sites was the search for evidence of water on Mars at some time in the planet's past, because water is thought to be essential for the development of life. The Spirit rover was sent to the floor of a 140-kilometer (90-mile) wide crater named Gusev, because geologists thought it might once have contained a large lake.

X marks Spirit's landing site in Gusev Crater. An ancient river valley (arrows) indicates that water once flowed into the crater and may have formed a lake.
NASA/JPL/Arizona State University image

Gusev Crater

Spirit's route across the crater floor, including its dramatic ascent of the Columbia Hills, named for the Space Shuttle crew lost in 2003.
NASA/JPL/Cornell/MSSS image

Spirit's Route

The view from the rim of Bonneville Crater, which scientists had hoped would reveal the rocks beneath the lava flows found near the landing site.
Mars Exploration Rover Spirit
NASA/JPL/Cornell image

Bonneville Crater

Scaling Husband Hill
The top of Husband Hill gave Spirit a panoramic view of the surrounding plains, which were often swept by swirling columns of wind and dust called dust devils. Consisting of a mix of ancient rocks altered by interaction with water, the Columbia Hills seem older than the lava covered plains. Scientists aren't sure whether the rocks were created by an impact, volcanism, or some other process. But their complexity and altered condition point to a time when Mars was geologically active and wetter.

Spirit's view from atop Husband Hill. This panoramic mosaic shows the rover's tracks (right), other peaks of the Columbia Hills (just left of center), and the region called the Inner Basin (center), Spirit's next destination.
Mars Exploration Rover Spirit
NASA/JPL/Cornell image

 

Husband Hill

Spirit spent much of its second year on Mars exploring Home Plate, an area within a basin surrounded by the Columbia Hills. The rover found that Home Plate is likely an eroded volcanic structure that may have formed when hot lava erupted through wet rocks.
NASA/JPL/MSSS/USGS image

Home Plate

Looking toward Home Plate.
Mars Exploration Rover Spirit
NASA/JPL/Cornell image

Home Plate

The dust-covered Spirit rover took this self-portrait using its panoramic camera. The camera can look down to image the rover, but the mast on which it is mounted is not in the camera's field of view.
Mars Exploration Rover Spirit
NASA/JPL/Cornell image

Opportunity