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MER-A ("Spirit") is the first of the two Mars Exploration Rover Missions. It successfully landed on Mars on January 3, 2004. Its twin, Opportunity, is expected to land on Mars January 24, 2004.

Note: Days on Mars are called Sols, the landing date (January 3) of MER-A is considered Sol 1, Sol 2 is January 4 and notable as the rover first responded to NASA commands on Sol 2.

Table of contents
1 Landing Site: Columbia Memorial Station
2 Events and discoveries
3 Timeline
4 References

Landing Site: Columbia Memorial Station

MER-A landed in Gusev crater about 10 km from the center of the target ellipse at latitude 14.5718° S ± 30 meters, longitude 175.4785° E ± 0.5 meters [1]. A panorama [1] shows a slightly rolling surface, littered with small rocks, with hills on the horizon up to 27 km away. The MER team named the landing site "Columbia Memorial Station", in honor of the seven astronauts killed in the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster.

Events and discoveries

Sleepy Hollow

"Sleepy Hollow," a shallow depression in the Mars ground near NASA's Spirit rover, may become an early destination when the rover drives off its lander platform in a week or so. NASA scientists were very interested in this crater. It is 9 meters (30 feet) across and about 12 meters (40 feet) north of the lander.

First 3-D panorama of landing site: the crater under the sun is "Sleepy Hollow" received on January 5. ()

"Just as the ancient mariners used sextants for 'shooting the Sun,' as they called it, we were successfully able to shoot the Sun with our panorama camera, then use that information to point the antenna," said JPL's Matt Wallace, mission manger.

First color photograph

Below is the first color image of Mars taken by the panoramic camera on the Mars Exploration Rover Spirit. It is the highest resolution image ever taken on the surface of another planet. "We're seeing a panoramic mosaic of four pancam images high by three wide," said camera designer Jim Bell of Cornell. There are actually 12 million pixels in this image, it's 4,000 high by 3,000 wide. This, however, is only the tip of the iceberg, as this image, received on January 6, 2004, is about one eighth of a single pancam panorama and isn't stereo.

Part of the first color photograph sent from Spirit. The depression known as "Sleepy Hollow" is visible at the right of this photograph. (
Enlarge image)