Programs Will Share Inside Story of Mars-Bound Robots

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August 19, 2003

Two free public programs in Pasadena this week will offer an introduction to the challenges and excitement of NASA's project to examine two areas of Mars with robotic rovers that are currently flying to Mars.

Peter Theisinger, Mars Exploration Rover project manager, will describe the project on Thursday evening, Aug. 21, at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and on Friday evening, Aug. 22, at Pasadena City College.

"Three years of work by a great team got these spacecraft built and tested and launched, but the biggest hurdle is still in front of us," Theisinger said. "We have to get them safely onto the surface of Mars."

The two rovers, Spirit and Opportunity, will arrive three weeks apart in January at opposite sides of Mars. They will bounce and roll inside cocoons of inflated airbags. Unlike the much smaller Sojourner rover of the Mars Pathfinder mission in 1997, each Mars Exploration Rover will be independent of its stationary lander, capable of communicating directly with Earth and carrying a full set of cameras for scouting locations to explore. At selected rocks it will extend an arm bearing geological tools for close-up analysis. The landing sites were selected as places likely to hold geological clues about the history of water on Mars.

Theisinger, a La Crescenta resident, has worked on several interplanetary exploration missions since his 1967 graduation from the California Institute of Technology, including Voyager to the outer planets, Galileo to Jupiter and Mars Global Surveyor.

His two talks will be part of JPL's Theodore von Kármán Lecture Series. Both will begin at 7 p.m. Seating is first-come, first-served. The Thursday lecture will be in JPL's von Kármán Auditorium. JPL is at 4800 Oak Grove Dr., off the Oak Grove Drive exit of the 210 (Foothill) Freeway. The Friday lecture will be in Pasadena City College's Vosloh Forum, 1570 E. Colorado Blvd. For more information, call (818) 354-0112. Thursday's lecture will be webcast live and available afterwards at

Contact: Guy Webster (818) 354-6278


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