Nova (1974–…): Season 31, Episode 9 - Mars Dead or Alive - full transcript

NOVA goes behind the scenes at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory to offer a look at the construction and launch of two Martian exploratory rovers: "Spirit" and "Opportunity".

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Subtitled by Andrommeda

It's the summer of 2002

and, as usual,
Steve Squyres is on the road.

He's a professor of astronomy

from Cornell University
in Ithaca, New York.

In the past few years he's
logged almost a million miles

commuting to NASA's
Jet Propulsion Lab- JPL-

in Pasadena, California.

This is where NASA builds

to explore the solar system...

and at the moment
they're building

two of the most sophisticated
ever attempted-

twin rovers designed to unravel
the secrets of Mars.

These robots are the ultimate
custom machines...

no stock parts,
nothing off the shelf.

This isn't General Motors,

and we're not building
pickup trucks;

this stuff that you see here
has never been built before.

A year before launch,

the rovers
and science instruments

are bits and pieces of hardware

scattered through
a dozen different buildings.

Steve Squyres is
the lead scientist

and driving force
behind the mission,

but the engineers will
make it happen.

More than 600 people at JPL
are dedicated to MER-

Mars Exploration Rovers.

It's a demanding job
with an unusual payoff.

I think it's easy
to forget about the big picture

when you start getting a little
tired, a little burned out.

Then you start thinking,
why am I complaining?

I'm going to work to drive
a vehicle on another planet.

And not
just any planet.

Mars has tantalized us
for centuries

with a confounding mix of
the familiar and the bizarre.

Canyons miles deep
and thousands of miles long...

a volcano the size of Arizona

and three times
the height of Mount Everest.

What water there is on the
surface is frozen at the poles.

There's evidence
of more ice underground,

but so far,
not a drop of liquid anywhere.

It's a frigid,
almost airless desert

of dust, wind and radiation.

Even for a robot
it's a hostile environment.

But these rovers will be
prepared for the worst.

They're going to be in a place where
there's dust to get in the joints

and the temperature goes
through 100 degrees centigrade

between nighttime and daytime,

but this was the world
that they were designed for

and so I think
they're going to do okay.

The lure of Mars is the possibility

that it wasn't always
such a harsh and barren place.

From orbit, we see ancient signs

of water flowing
across the surface,

which could mean that Mars was
once warm enough to be wet-

and perhaps a habitat for life.

Just because there
was liquid water there

doesn't mean that
there was life there.

But we cannot imagine life
without liquid water,

so it's a necessary condition.

I want to go to two places on Mars

where we've got good
evidence that water was there,

and I want to answer
the question:

Was this an environment that
would have..

been suitable
for life?

The rovers will be field geologists

reading the story of early Mars

recorded in the rocks
and minerals.

Scientists on Earth
will send instructions,

but even at the speed of light,

it will take ten minutes or more
for radio signals to reach Mars.

So the rovers will have to be
smart enough

to make many
of their own decisions,

like how to navigate
around hazards.

They'll have high-resolution
stereo vision

to survey the landscape...

plus an infrared camera,
called Mini-TES,

to locate minerals that formed
in contact with water.

More science instruments
are on the robotic arm.

There's a power tool
to grind off

the weathered surface
of a rock...

two spectrometers to sniff out
what it's made of...

and a microscope
to examine its interior.

It would be hard enough to make
all this work on Earth...

but to make it work on Mars will
be extraordinarily difficult,

and the engineers have just
12 months left to pull it off.

Today,the instrument called
Mini-TES is scheduled for a test.

Because it can detect minerals that
formed in contact with water,

it may be the single most important
instrument on the mission.

They have to prove that this delicate
piece of hardware

is tough enough to survive
the shocks and bumps

it will experience on the way
to Mars.

It will be bolted to a slab
of aluminum,

which will then be struck by
a gas-driven hammer,

giving the instrument
a severe jolt.

Steve wants to make sure
the engineers don't overdo it

and break the instrument

NASA ultimately holds me

for delivery of the scientific
instruments on the payload.

Now, I'm not an engineer,

but I take my responsibilities
very, very seriously.

And if we break some

you know, it's going to be my neck
on the line

along with a whole bunch of others.

If we break this today?
Five million dollars.

Oh, five million bucks?
And maybe no flight.

Let's make sure everybody's clear
on what we're doing here.

This is an irreplaceable flight unit.

Steve is worried because
the point of this test is to prove

that the instrument is
tougher than it needs to be-

what engineers call "margin. "

But such tests are not usually done

on the actual hardware going to Mars.

What we wish we had was
an engineering model,

which is another copy of
the flight instrument,

identical design, but not one
that's going to Mars.

Put it on the table, shock it.

If it survives it means the design's okay,

we don't have to do it to the flight units.

But at $5 million apiece,

they could only afford to build two,

one for each rover.

A mistake here could cripple
one of them

and not leave enough time
to recover.

That's what I'm trying to get at.

Is there something we can
break inside this instrument today

that's going to cost six months to fix?

Because if it is...

The engineer who knows
the instrument best

is Steve Silverman from Raytheon.

Squyres wants to know

if he thinks it can survive
this severe jolt

or if they should insist on
a less dangerous test.

...two to three weeks of vibration testing.

Look, do we do the test today?

I called the dynamicist

and he said we should be able
to survive it.

Now, will we?

I can't answer that one, Steve.

No, I'm not asking for a prediction,

I'm asking for...

I mean, it's a binary thing-

either we do the test today
or we don't do the test today.

What's your recommendation?

Do we strap it to the table

and shoot the thing off,

or do we walk out of here
with our instrument?

Um... this is a tough one.

I know.

We can cause all sorts of hell for
a lot of people today,

but we can't bring
this whole project down.

There's a natural built-in creative tension

between the science and the engineering.

And, ultimately,even though it gets
people kind of riled up sometimes,

it works to the benefit of the system.

Okay, so, your recommendation is?

I think we go.

If the project is going to require
a qualification test,

we should do it now.

All right.

Because if we're going to
break it...

If we're going to break it,
we ought to break it as soon as possible.

All right.

Finally, the moment of truth.

Come on, sweetheart.

Five, four, three, two, one.

Oh, God...

No one will breathe easy
until the results are in.

Steve has to move on
to other business,

leaving the postmortem
to the engineers.

We're powering it up.

The current's good,
and we're in business.

Current looks good.

Yeah, it looks good.

We survived the shock.

All right, all right,
someone call Squyres.

Hey, Steve,

I wanted to give you the good news.

We turned on Mini-TES 1.

It's working great.

It survived the shock test,

so we're pretty happy...

So I thought you'd like to hear it.

Have a good flight,see you, bye.

He needs all the good news he can get.

The clock is ticking,and
Mars waits for no one.

Every 26 months

the orbits of Earth and
Mars bring the two planets

to a brief,relatively close encounter,

about 35 million miles apart.

This is when missions must
be launched,

and the next opportunity is rapidly

If they miss it,they may not
get another chance,

since it would cost millions
to put everything on hold

for two more years.

And that's not all there is
to worry about.

Everyone remembers
what happened

the last time NASA tried
to go to Mars.

In 1999, a mix-up between
English and metric units

resulted in the loss of an orbiter.

Just a few months later,

a software problem caused
a lander to crash.

Mars is a graveyard for half
the spacecraft ever sent there.

But this time they have
to succeed.

I think the credibility of
the Jet Propulsion Laboratory is at stake.

I think that the credibility of
NASA's Mars program is at stake.

Uh, a hell of a lot of science is at stake.

The last ten or 15 years of
my career is at stake.

That's from a purely
personal perspective.

Um, there's an enormous
amount at stake here,

and everybody realizes it.

Ten months before launch,

the engineers are feeling
the pressure.

They've been working
around the clock

to complete an engineering
model of the rover.

It has no instruments or
solar panels yet,

but otherwise it's identical
to the ones that will go to Mars.

There are several thousand unique
pieces of hardware,

each one precisely placed,
but never perfectly placed.

It's really freaking hard,
that's right.

Today is the first
in a long series of tests

to find out if the rover can perform

its most basic functions.

Joel, whenever you're ready,go ahead
and send the command.

Command sent.

With that very first test,
when you first see it happening,

that technical part of your brain says,
"This has to work. "

That emotional part of your brain

is saying,
"Yeah, but what did you forget?

You're not as smart as
you think you are. "

And let's just say
we never get past that fear

until we're successful.

Wheels turn for the first time,

and suddenly
Mars is much closer.

We just saw a MER rover move.

It just came to life
for the first time today in front of us.

We're still under pressure,
but we're doing it.

We're actually doing it.

We're building stuff.

We're driving stuff.

We're taking pictures
with the cameras.

We're moving the arm,
and it's working.

The morale right now is
the highest I've seen it

since the start of the project.

We're just flying.

But the rover will have to get

And the biggest challenge

will be the last six minutes of the journey.

During entry, descent and landing,

the rover is on its own.

Okay, there is no back and forth
between the vehicle and Earth.

We've taught it what to do,and
it does it or it doesn't.

Atmospheric friction
will slow the spacecraft

from about 12,000 to 900 miles per hour.

Then a parachute takes over.

The heat shield falls away,

and the lander descends on a long bridle.

Now the rover inside keeps
track of the altitude with radar.

At 900 feet, a cocoon of airbags
inflates around the lander.

Just seconds before impact,

reverse rockets fireto soften the blow.

And then...

They bounce, they bounce,

they bounce, they bounce,they bounce,

they roll, they bounce,
they roll, they bounce.

And that can go on for quite a while.

We can roll and bounce,like, a kilometer.

The landing sites have been
chosen with safety in mind.

But I can't tell you

that somewhere in the middle of that

there isn't a five-meter
tall, pointy, sharp rock

that if you just happen to
have a bad day, you land on,

pop your airbags, and that's it.

There is an element of luck about it.

Still without helpfrom Earth,

the rover has to unfold itself

and call home to say, "I've arrived. "

Every one of those events

is triggered by the computer.

There are electrical signals.

There are things that have to fire

and there's mechanical
stuff that needs to work.

Any one of those events
fails for whatever reason,

and we're done.

So there's a lot of
things that can go wrong,

and, uh, landing day we're
going to hope it all works.

Of all the things that could go wrong,

the airbags seem the least
likely to cause trouble.

It's a relatively simple idea.

Inflate a cushion around
the lander and let it bounce.

To test the bags properly

they have to duplicate the
atmospheric pressure on Mars,

which is less than one percent
of the atmosphere on Earth.

For the first test,

they go to the world's
largest vacuum chamber

at a NASA facility in Ohio.

When the chamber is pumped
down to a near vacuum,

they'll inflate the bag

and drop it on a platform
studded with sharp rocks

to simulate landing.

We went out to Ohio,and we were ready

to do these great and glorious tests

and show everybody that,
"Hey, things are going to work.

Don't worry about this, guys. "

So we're all sitting in a control room,

and we've gota half-dozen video cameras

looking at all sortsof different angles.

And everyone is sitting around,

saying, "Oh, I think we'll be good. "

And, um, we drop.

The airbag comes down,it hits the ramp,

and as it's bouncing off the ramp,

you see this huge, gaping
holein one of the airbags.


"What's happened here?

This is unexpected. "

It was a frightening moment.

We all believed that
we could make it happen,

but all of a sudden we didn't
know it was going to happen,

and we really had to rethink everything.

They were caught by surprise

because they'd done all this before,

on a highly successful mission from 1997

called Mars Pathfinder.

Its purpose was to demonstrate

what was then a radical new concept-

a controlled crash landing with an airbag,

and a fold-up lander inside
carrying a small rover.

Pathfinder didn't produce a
lot of science, but it did prove

that the landing system
and rover worked on Mars.

It worked so well

NASA decided to use the
same technology for MER.

Go with what you know.

We had a success.

Take the drawings off the rack
for Pathfinder, build a new set.

Except Pathfinder got dinged

for not having enough science return,

so we're going to up the science return

by stuffing a big rover
inside of this lander.

MER is the Pathfinder rover on steroids.

It has bigger wheels and suspension

to handle rougher terrain.

It carries all the cameras, radios, antennas

and the computer that runs everything,

which on Pathfinderwere
all part of the lander,

plus the payload of science instruments

and the robotic arm, all
of which require more power,

meaning bigger solar
arrays, more electronics

and a heater to keep things warm at night.

It's the ultimateoff-road, off-Earth,

mobile science laboratory.

And yet because of space limitations

on the launch rocket,this pumped-up rover

must fit into the same size package

that carried Pathfinder to
Mars,and that's a problem.

The solution isa complex fold-up rover

that will have to unfold itself

after a long, cold, rough trip to Mars.

And the whole thing weighs
50% more than Pathfinder,

which is an even bigger problem.

With the airbags struggling
to handle the extra weight,

it's even more important now

to get the best possible
performance from the parachute

to control the velocity when
the lander hits the ground.

The first parachute strength tests

will tell them where they stand.

The chute will be deployed
from this giant dart

as it's dropped from the helicopter.

We go to these first tests.

Beautiful day.

We're very confident.

See, that looks really nice to me.

On Mars the parachute will open

at more than 900 miles per hour.

But in the denser atmosphere of Earth,

the same stress on the chute can be achieved

at a much slower speed.

Here we go, baby.

Here we go.

It's a beautiful release.


We have this massive structural failure.

The, uh, parachute rips apart.

And we were all kind of stunned.

First the airbags, then the
parachute, and it sets in on us

that we're goingto have to find...

magically find time in our
schedule for a redesign cycle,

and prove that we have the entry, descent

and landing system that
will take us to Mars.

All of a sudden
your whole world becomes...

that tear, that rock.

"Why did that happen?

"How do I fix that?

What are we going to do?

"And a whole mission is riding
on fixing those kind of problems.

It's a terrifying moment,

but at the same time,it's...
it's exhilarating.

There are moments where there's an
at-all-cost component to the effort,

and it can get you down.

You can find yourself eating
a lot, drinking too much.

And it's reallyan important practice

to keep on top of the stress.

I'm exercising more than I've
exercised in my entire life.

I'm working out once a day,at least,

because if I don't, I go crazy.

Landing on Mars has never been easy.

The Russians tried seven
times to land on Mars

before we ever did.

One spacecraft lastedfor a few seconds-

all the rest were failures.

If it were easy to land on Mars,

people would be doing itall the time.

And then in 1975,
two Viking spacecraft were launched.

Before Pathfinder, the
only successful attempts

were the Viking landersin the 1970s.
Nav is green for touchdown.

It was NASA's Golden Age,

with powered landers,ten
years of development,

and four times the
$800-million budget of MER.

It was $900 millionin 1973 dollars.

Which is, you know,31/2 billion today.

The Viking orbiters
produced tens of thousands of pictures-

a complete photographic mapof the planet.

But a primary missionof the landers

was to look for signsof life on the surface,

and that search came up empty.

What Viking did find

is a distinctly unfriendly
environment for life:

150 below zero at
night,very thin atmosphere,

no protectionfrom solar radiation,

no organic chemicalsin the soil,

no liquid water.

The verdict at the
time was that Mars is dead.

The search for life dominated
all of the public and governmental

interest in the mission,and when
life was not found by Viking,

then it was a disappointment,

and we had no Mars missions
for 20 years as a consequence.

This time the strategy will be different.

The dried-up river channelsseen from orbit

suggest that Mars was not always
as barren as it now appears.

Scientists can imaginean early Mars

where liquid water flowedacross the surface,

forming lakes and even oceans.

On Earth, wherever there's
liquid water, there's life-

even in the most hostile environments,

like hot springs, beneatharctic
ice and deep underground.

In the search for life on Mars,

NASA's current strategyis
to follow the water.

If we can find the places on Mars
where water pooled,

then that's whereyou want to go,

that's where you wantto look for life.

So water is, if you will,

the scent of the lifethat we're looking for.

There are many places on Mars

that may once have been wet,

but only a handful wherethe
rovers can actually go.

They're solar powered, so they
need to be near the equator,

where the sun is almost directly overhead.

And within this narrow band,

they can land only at the lowest
elevations, where the parachutes

will have enough timein the thin atmosphere

to slow the landersbefore
they hit the ground.

That eliminates 95% of the planet,

and much of what's left

is too dangerous for landing
or for operating the rovers.

After two years of investigation,

they're down to a small handful
of possible landing sites.

All right, we can get started.
Right now we're a week behind

in selecting our wind-safe sites, so...

This is where it gets difficult.

Believe me, these sites are not all created
equalfrom a science perspective.

Some are very exciting,some much less so,

and they're going to be chosen

largely on the basisof their safety.

Scientifically, this thinghas
nothing going for it...

You all understand the threat which is...
I'm trying to protect us against, right-

There's thisnatural tension

between the scientists and the engineers,

because the engineers are the ones

who have to tell the scientists,

"The possibility of failure

if we do what you wantis too high. "

One site they can all agree on is called

Meridiani Planum.

It looks relatively safe,and
orbiters have detected

a large deposit of the
iron mineral gray hematite,

which on Earth usually
forms in the presence of water.

But the scientists want very badly to try

something more adventurousfor
the other rover.

There's a place calledGusev Crater-

a big impact crater, maybe
100 miles or something across,

and it's got this huge dried-up
river valley flowing into it.

It's hard to believe that
this thing didn't have

a great big lake in it at
some point in Martian history.

Sediments are going to
be deposited in that lake,

you should have a good sedimentary record

of liquid water and
whatever was going on there.

So Gusev Crateris a fabulous place to go.

But Gusev may have strong winds,

and that presents a
serious hazard for landing.

Just before impact,

reverse rockets will firefor a few seconds

to reduce velocity to something
the airbags can handle.

But if the wind is blowingthe
lander along horizontally

relative to the ground,

or causing it to swing
when the rockets fire,

the lander could hit the ground

with too much horizontal velocity

and potentially disastrous results.

The engineers have
addedanother rocket system

to counteract some of
that sideways velocity,

but it may not be enoughto handle

a worst-case scenarioat Gusev Crater.

The engineers know that the
science team wants this site,

and we want to gowhere they want to go,

but we will not go where
it's too dangerous to go.

The final decision will be made

at NASA headquarters.

But for Gusev to be an option,

the engineers will have
to get maximum performance

from the problematic airbagsand parachutes.

We're working nights and weekends

to try and get that job done.

We're really pushing to try

and make this Gusev site
work for the scientists.

The airbags have been redesigned

with a loose, secondary bladder inside.

Like the inner tube of a tire,

it's isolated from the outer layers,

which absorb most of the stress.

The new design has surviveda
series of punishing tests,

up to the equivalentof
hitting a pile of rocks

at 50 miles per hour.

This bodes well

for the prospects of going to Gusev Crater.

But unless the parachute
problem can be solved,

they won't be goinganywhere at all.

Currently, this project

does not have a parachute design that works.

That's not a good placeto be in.

They've moved to the
wind tunnel at NASA Ames,

near San Jose, California.

This 135,000-horsepower wind
machine will make it possible

to test more parachutes in less
time than the helicopter method,

and time is the enemy.

There's this,you know, sort of...

Since the failureof the first test,

the landing teamhas been searching for ways

to make the parachute stronger.

Simply using heavier fabric won't do it.

There's no more room in the
canister for thicker material,

and there's no room on the
lander for a bigger canister.

Because we can't fit any more parachute,

what we have to dois
take a smaller parachute.

Thicker fabric, but less
square yards of fabric.

But this creates problems.

If they shrink the diametertoo much,

there won't be enough
dragto slow the lander down.

An alternative is to shorten the band,

but the band controls stability;

if it's too short,

it could make the chutemore
vulnerable to wind.

It takes weeks to build a parachute,

so with time running out

they've come to the testwith
several design variations,

hoping that one of themwill work.

This test is the big deal.

You know, if we havea failure here

that's going to start a...
a measure of desperation

we never wantto find ourselves in, so...

The first chute will be fired from a mortar

on top of the tower, when
the wind is up to speed.

Stand by for drive synchto utility.

This was not in the plans.

The chute fails to inflate,

a phenomenon knownas "squidding. "

I would initiatea normal stop.

Okay,let's have a drive-down stop.

Instead of solving a problem,

they've uncovered a new one,

and they don't know what's causing it.

I know, it's super, super,super, super-mega.

This is super-megabummer, so...

Just when we thought we were there,

just about to cross the finish line,

out of nowhere this thing comes.

It certainly was the worst
feelings I'd had thus far in the project.

I want to see how stiff,you know...

In 30 years of testing this type of chute,

from Viking through Pathfinder,

squidding has neverbeen seen before.

It looks like we'd expect it to just go now.

Come on, go now.

The parachute is displaying that it has

a... personality disorder.

In a situation like this,

you need to think about all
the possible solutions,

and then you have to get moving

down all of those solution paths,

because you don't know which one

is going to get you out of the woods.

Okay, I need a favor from you.

They can't prove
the strength of the new parachutes

until they find and correct
the cause of the squidding.

This is a bit of a ghost.

By the end of this week,
it could be an unpleasant memory.

Or it could stay with us and
be a very, very serious problem

that we might not really havea solution for.

And what happens
if you don't get a solution for it?

Well, it would be dramatic,

but this could bea mission-ender.

The next day,the bosses arrive from JPL.

They've been through this before,

so no one is panicking... yet.

Every one of our missions seem to have

some sort of grand challenge
in the final year before launch.

It just seems to bepart of the deal.

I guess it's because we
don't do this often enough.

It adds to the stress levels.

Especially since Mars is
marching closer and closer-

that launch date is comingcloser and closer,

and we have very littleelbow room.

To inflate,

a parachute has to trap
more air than it lets out.

Air flows in from the bottom,
and some is allowed to escape

through a vent at the top and
the gap above the band.

But if too much escapes,
the chute won't fully inflate.

In theory, it's simple.

But in practice, parachutes are a nightmare
for engineers.

The physics of inflation are
complex and hard to predict.

To figure out what's going on here

they'll have to run some experiments.

They start with
the simplest possible solution

on the failed parachute.

They'll make the vent hole smaller

and try again to inflate the chute.

Now, we've tacked this restrictor

inside the vent of the canopy,
and I'll lay it out here now.

The chute can't be repacked and fired

from the mortar,

so they tie it closed at
the bottom, crank up the wind

and hope for the best.

Okay, we're at 61 knots, 12 Q.

When the tunnel is up to speed,

they release the line
holding the chute closed.

Pull, Jason.

The line went slack! -Yeah.

They've taken data? -Yeah.

There it is.
We have inflation.

Very interesting.

Wait here.

Incredibly, the culprit is exposed

on the first try.

This parachute was mistakenly
built with an oversized vent.

Now that the chute is inflated,

they can see that
the strength problem has been solved.

But they're not done yet.

It will take another month of work

to arrive at the final design.

Two... one... fire.

Come on, come on...

Look at that thing fly!

Beautiful. Absolutely beautiful.

Just days before their deadline,

the parachute team has found

the ideal combination of
strength and stability.

A perfect inflation

and a perfect handling of the loads,

by our most desirable...

At a system level, this is
our most desirable parachute.

What this means now...

is that the scientists
are going to have a shot

at getting to that Gusev
Crater landing site.

And that's the number-one science site.

Put her there.

The landing site decision
is still months away,

but the airbags and
the parachute are ready for Mars.

It's five months until launch.

The rovers are almost ready
to go... the hardware, at least.

The software is another story.

The software

for launch, cruise,
entry, descent and landing-

getting down on the surface
- that is in good shape.

But the software for
driving around on the surface

and doing the science is
still kind of shaky right now.

There simply isn't enough time

to teach the rover everything
it needs to know before launch.

So they'll keep working on the software

and then reprogram the computers by radio

when the rovers are on their way to Mars.

You can send the vehicle

and then you can launch
the software off into space

six months later.

The engineers are doing all they can.

But soon, their rover will be on its own.

I hope it's not a rebellious teenager.

And I'm hoping that the environment
we put it in challenges it-

because that challenges us-

but doesn't challenge it too much.

Three months before launch,

the rovers are on their way
to Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

It's the first leg of
a journey that will end on Mars.

At the launch pad,
preparations are underway.

The engineers carefully inspect
the rovers one last time...

and they find a problem,

a faulty circuit board inside both rovers.

To replace them,
they must open the solar panels

by firing explosive fasteners
called pyros,

of which there are dozens
on each rover.

The rover's solar arrays

were already fastened together;

everything was all fastened up tight.

We were ready for launch.

We had to open them up again.

The only way to do it was

by actually firing live
pyros-bang, bang, bang.

With the panels open,
the problem is easily fixed.

New boards go in,
the panels are closed up again

and secured with fresh pyros.

But just three weeks before launch,
the engineers discover

that pyros can sometimes
short-circuit when fired.

And a short might have overheated

components called resistors
in the pyro-firing circuits,

compromising their ability
to fire pyros on Mars.

What we're worried about

is the possibility that these
resistors could have been heated

to the point where they have
been destroyed.

And next time we use them,
at Mars, they might not work.

And we have no way of getting
at them and testing them.

The rover is ready to
go to the launch pad.

It would take weeks to
take the thing apart,

and it would blow our schedule;
we wouldn't be able to launch.

This could threaten the whole mission.

I mean, the rovers could end up

in the Air and Space
Museum over this, okay.

If we're not able
to launch these things now,

it may not make sense to ever fly them.

The only way to prove
that the rovers are okay

is to test all the pyros
that were ever fired

and see if any of them has a short circuit.

If it's not shorted out,

pyro's fine,you're ready to fly.

If you find it,
and it's got a short circuit in it...

then you've got trouble.

The problem is,

no one expected to need
those fired pyros again.

Now they have to find them.

And so there was this treasure hunt.

And people were going
in bags and shelves

and pulling things apart.

And gradually,
piece by piece, they were found.

The last one-the critical one
that we needed

to prove that we were really okay
- was found yesterday.

Three days before launch,

and we're still sweating these resistors.

It was... it was awful.

On June 10, rover numberone
is finally cleared for launch.

And it now has a name, Spirit.

The landing team has delivered
what the scientists asked for,

a system capable of handling Gusev Crater,

the site chosen for Spirit

by NASA associate administrator, Ed Weiler.

Being the end of
the food chain on this thing

and being the one, if something goes wrong,

is the one ultimately going
to explain to Congress

why it went wrong-

it's one of the honors of being
an associate administrator-

it's a scary mission.

There's an awful lot of things
that have to work just right.

And the entry, descent
and landing are the ones

that really worry me.

We get on Mars and get that thing moving,

I think we'll be just fine.

I'm not nervous, man, I'm ready to fly.

It's been a long time coming,
today's the day.

We're heading to Mars,
maybe today, maybe a few days

depending on what the weather does to us,

but it's time to fly.

I locked the keysin the trunk.

Call Triple A.

ATC3, main power disable on.

35 seconds. T- minus 15, electronics go
and hydraulics go.

Got to remember to breathe.
Got to remember to breathe.

T- minus ten... nine... eight...
seven... six... five... four...

three... two... one!
Main engines start,

and lift off of the Delta II rocket

carrying the Spirit
from Earth to planet Mars.

Four nautical miles downrange,
15 nautical miles...

Just coming up on 2,000 miles per hour.

At T-plus 60 seconds, our
solid boosters have burned out.

Quite a nice, symmetrical burn there
on all six ground-start loaders.

And jettisoned all six solids
and we have ignited the other three.

All three air-starts are up and running,
ramping up to their peak thrust.

...reports spacecraft go.

A month later, it's a night
launch for rover number two,

now called Opportunity.

A series of problems with the rocket

has consumed almost two
weeks of the launch window.

Only one week remains,

after which, Mars will be out
of reach for another two years.

But tonight, everything looks good.

Bagpipers from Cornell will
provide a musical sendoff.

Don't worry, you'll see it.

Yeah, I think it's...
We're just about ready.

35 seconds, electronics
go, hydraulics go.

This is it.

For Steve and his family,
it's been a long wait.

20 seconds!
15 seconds.

Hold, we've had a hold.

We've had a cutoff.

15 seconds.

We're going into recycle.

And the clock is stopped.

A glitch in the fuel
system stops the countdown.

Armed for launch, the rocket
is now literally a bomb.

Secure water flow.

Prop 2 PUC purge, press closed.

Hydraulic external power off.

Over several very long minutes,

the launch crew manages to
pull it back from the brink.

Seven seconds!

The fuel problem is also resolved,

and a half hour later
they're ready to try again.

You know, I was so sure last time,

I don't know what to think this time.
Yeah, right.

T minus ten... nine... eight... seven...
six... five... four...

Here we go.
It's going to go.

Two... Here we go- God.

Zero, and lift off
of the Delta rocketwith Opportunity.

Come on, baby. Oh... God...

She's gone.
Listen for it.

It's gone.

It's hard to say good-bye.
Mach one.

I'll see them again in pictures,

but I'm never going to
lay my eyes on it again.

But, hey, uh, they got
to do what they got to do.

Seven months later, it's landing day-

January 3, 2004.

The rover Spirit is due to touch down
in Gusev Crater

at 8:35 p. m., Pacific time.

In Mission Control at JPL,
the landing team braces

for the most dangerous
six minutes of the journey

We're landing on Mars...

you know, the thing's

100 million miles away.

Two thirds of the spacecraft

that have ever gone there have died.

So, yeah, it's dangerous.

The team has worked very, very hard,

and there have been
some fairly significant sacrifices,

and so we're really hoping for a payoff.

At 8:14 PM, they pick up a faint signal

that the landing capsule has separated
from the cruise stage.

As the animation shows,
the rover is now on its own...

and the mission controllers
are just spectators.

Three, two, one...

At 8:29, the capsule hits
the top of the atmosphere.

A few minutes later, the parachute opens.

The lander separates.

Radar is working.

Airbags inflate,

rockets fire,

and the lander is cut loose.

So roughly, any signal

that we receive from
now indicates the vehicle

would be alive on the ground and bouncing.

Stand by.

Now they wait for a sign

that the rover has survived.

What are we seeing?

But suddenly, the signal is gone.

We saw an intermittent signal

that indicated we were bouncing.

However... however, we currently
do not have signal

from the spacecraft.

Minutes pass.

Finally, at 8:51...

Yes. Yes!

Spirit calls home.

It's an amazing night, man.

If things go well,

we're going to see Gusev Crater,
our new home,in just a couple of hours.

Just hours after landing,

Spirit is not only safeon Mars,

it's hard at work,sending home pictures.

Within days, the high-resolution camera
sends back

the first color postcard of
the Martian landscape.

A new era of exploration has begun.

Welcome to Mars.