MEDIA RELATIONS OFFICE
JET PROPULSION LABORATORY
CALIFORNIA INSTITUTE OF TECHNOLOGY
NATIONAL AERONAUTICS AND SPACE ADMINISTRATION
PASADENA, CALIF. 91109 TELEPHONE (818) 354-5011
Contact: Mary Hardin (818) 354-0344
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASEApril 29, 1999
NASA'S MARS ROVER TEST DRIVE RACKS UP MILES AND SMILES
It is the ultimate test drive for the newest otherworldly
vehicle. A few practice spins around an ancient lake bed in the
Mojave desert this week with the next-generation Mars rover are
helping NASA scientists and engineers learn more about driving
the real thing on Mars.
"It's pretty exciting out here. We want to rack up a lot of
miles and see how far this rover can go," said Dr. Raymond
Arvidson, a geologist from Washington University in St. Louis,
MO, and mission director for the field tests. "We are doing an
'end-to-end' test, using systems similar to what we will use on
Mars. These test drives will help ensure that we will have a
successful Mars rover mission."
Future robotic rovers on Mars will need to find the best
rocks to bring back to Earth, samples that are likely to contain
the evidence scientists need to prove that life once existed on
the red planet. The rovers are being built and tested by NASA's
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, CA.
To find the best sample, scientists need a good retriever.
This week they're testing the work horse, er dog, named FIDO --
Field Integrated Design and Operations -- that is helping them
figure out how to use the kinds of instruments the next Mars
rovers will need to fetch the most scientifically interesting
rocks. FIDO is designed to test the advanced technology of the
Athena flight rover and science payload that will be launched as
part of NASA's Mars Sample Return missions in 2003 and 2005.
"No place on Earth is like Mars, but our field site on an
ancient lake bed in the Mojave Desert comes close. So far we've
been able to use the rover's mini-corer to drill a rock sample
and we've used the microscopic camera to look inside the hole,"
Arvidson said. "We're practicing looking for rocks that contain
carbonate minerals. If we find those kinds of rocks on Mars it
may tell us if the early planet had a carbon dioxide atmosphere."
"We've had a fantastic week. In just a few days, we've shown
that we can find good rocks, drill samples out of them, and take
the samples back to a lander. That's a huge step forward in
preparing to bring the first samples back from Mars," said Dr.
Steven Squyres, principal investigator for the Athena rover
payload from Cornell University, Ithaca, NY.
"FIDO's advanced technology includes the ability to navigate
over distances on its own and avoid natural obstacles without
receiving directions from a controller," said Dr. Eric
Baumgartner, a robotics engineer at JPL and mission engineer for
the desert field tests. "The rover also uses a robot arm to
manipulate science instruments and it has a new mini-corer or
drill to extract and cache rock samples. There are also several
camera systems onboard that allow the rover to collect science
and navigation images by remote-control."
FIDO is about the size of a coffee table and weighs as much
as a St. Bernard, about 70 kilograms (150 pounds). It is
approximately 85 centimeters (about 33 inches) wide, 105
centimeters (41 inches) long, and 55 centimeters (22 inches)
high. The rover moves up to 300 meters an hour (less than a mile
per hour) over smooth terrain, using its onboard stereo vision
systems to detect and avoid obstacles as it travels "on-the-fly."
During these tests, FIDO is powered by both solar panels that
cover the top of the rover and by replaceable, rechargeable
"FIDO is about six times the size of Mars Pathfinder's
Sojourner and is far more capable of performing its job without
frequent human help," Dr. Paul S. Schenker, who directs FIDO
rover development at JPL as part of the NASA Exploration
Technology Program. "FIDO navigates continuously using on-board
computer vision and autonomous controls, and has similar
capabilities for eye-to-hand coordination of its robotic science
arm and mast. The rover has six wheels that are all
independently steered and can drive forward or backward allowing
FIDO to turn or back up with the use of its rear-mounted
In addition to testing FIDO, the scientists and engineers
are supporting students from four schools around the country in
designing and carrying out their own mission with the rover.
This is the first time students have been able to remotely
operate a NASA/JPL rover. The students, from Los Angeles,
Phoenix, Ithaca, NY, and St, Louis, (LAPIS), form an integrated
mission team and are responsible for planning, conducting and
archiving a two-day mission using FIDO.
"It is important to excite young people about space
exploration and discovery and these tests provide an excellent
educational opportunity," Arvidson said. "We're including high
school students in the FIDO tests as a pilot experiment in which
the students gain a sense of participation in the field trials by
planning their own mission segments and working with us to
implement the rover's assignments."
The FIDO rover development and the Mars Sample Return
2003/2005 missions are managed by NASA's Jet Propulsion
Laboratory for NASA's Office of Space Science Washington, DC.
JPL is a division of the California Institute of Technology,
More information about FIDO is available at: