Artist's concept of Mars Exploration Rover
Part of Merritt Square Mall in Merritt Island, Fla., will take on an unearthly tone during two "Mars at the Mall" days presented by NASA on May 9 and 10 to celebrate Florida's role as America's gateway to Mars.

The event, complete with a 3-D martian mural, models of NASA Mars rovers and a gallery of Mars pictures, will share excitement about two new rover missions to Mars scheduled to launch from Cape Canaveral in June. Preparations for launch are under way at NASA's Kennedy Space Center.

The new Mars Exploration Rovers will be able to explore farther and examine rocks better than the Sojourner rover that studied one site on Mars in 1997. Mars at the Mall will feature models both of Sojourner and a new Mars Exploration Rover. To give an unforgettable impression of how the Mars rovers can cope with bumps in their path, a very lightweight rover model will roll over children lying on the ground.

Visitors will wear three-dimensional viewing glasses to examine a mural of the Pathfinder landing site and get a sense of the Mars landscape receding in front of them to the horizon. Pictures taken by two orbiting NASA spacecraft, Mars Global Surveyor and Mars Odyssey, will show visitors a sampling of the diversity of martian surface features. Those two orbiters, both still active, have provided evidence of erosion by liquid water on Mars and of large amounts of ice existing close to the surface.

A meteorite that came from Mars will be on display. NASA personnel will be available throughout the event to answer questions about Mars exploration. Part of NASA's mission is to inspire the next generation of explorers.

The launch-opportunity period for the first Mars Exploration Rover begins June 5. The second rover could launch as soon as June 25. Both will arrive at Mars in January 2004, but at two different sites on opposite sides of the planet. One site is a crater that may have once been a lake. The other has a deposit of a mineral that usually forms only under wet conditions. Additional information about the Mars Exploration Rovers is available online at . The Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, Calif., manages the missions for NASA's Office of Space Science, Washington, D.C.

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