Mars Rover Teams Get Major Award
September 7, 2012

Rover Team Being Awarded Astronautics Award

Lee Rannals for - Your Universe Online

NASA's Mars Exploration Rovers Spirit and Opportunity teams are slated to receive the Haley Space Flight Award.

The team will be receiving the honor September 12 during the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) Space 2012 Conference and Exposition in Pasadena, California.

The award is being presented for outstanding contributions by an astronaut or flight test personnel to the advancement of the art, science or technology of astronautics.

Past recipients of the award includes Alan Shepherd, John Glenn, Thomas Stafford, Robert Crippen, Kathryn Sullivan and the crew of space shuttle mission STS-125.

The team is being honored for the rover project's "new techniques in extraterrestrial robotic system operations to explore another world and extend mission lifetime."

Mars Exploration Rover Project Manager John Callas of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena will be accepting the award.

"On behalf of the many hundreds of scientists and engineers who designed, built and operate these rovers, it is a great honor to accept this most prestigious award," Callas said. "It is especially gratifying that this comes right as Opportunity is conducting one of the most significant campaigns in the eight-and-a-half years since landing. We still are going strong, with perhaps the most exciting exploration still ahead."

Opportunity is in its eight year on the Red Planet and is roaming around surveying a crater-rim outcrop of layered rock in search of clay minerals that could provide new information about a formally wet environment.

Spirit, the twin rover, worked for more than six years until the rover became stuck on the Red Planet's surface, completing its mission back in 2010.

In the past two months, Opportunity has driven about a third of a mile, extending its total overland distance to 21.76 miles.

NASA said that recent drives along the inner edge of the Cape York segment of the western rim of Endeavour Crater have brought the rover close to a layered outcrop in an area where clay minerals have been detected from orbit.

These minerals may offer evidence of ancient, wet conditions with less acidity than the ancient, wet environments recorded at sites Opportunity visited during its first seven years on Mars.

The rover's position overlooking 14-mile-wide Endeavour Crater is about 5,200 miles from where Curiosity, the newest rover sent by NASA, landed inside Gale Crater at the beginning of August.