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Spirit rover's landing site.
NASA announced today that it has dedicated Opportunity's landing site to the crew of the Space Shuttle Challenger, which were killed when the shuttle was destroyed shortly after takeoff on January 28, 1986 - 18 years ago today. Its new name will be The Challenger Memorial Station. This joins memorials for the Columbia and Apollo 1 crews which were also recently announced.
New data gathered by NASA's Topex/Poseidon and Jason satellites seems to indicate that the cooler and drier periods in Southern California are a direct result of a long-term ocean pattern called the Pacific Decadal Oscillation. By measuring the ocean and atmosphere over the Pacific Ocean, forecasters can predict the temperatures and rainfall estimates for up to a year in advance. The full cycle of this effect can last 50 years, and right now the trend is towards a drier climate for the next five years.
NASA has memorialized the three members of Apollo 1 by naming terrain near the Spirit rover's landing site. Astronauts Gus Grissom, Ed White and Roger Chaffee died in a fire when their capsule was being tested exactly 37 years ago. Grissom Hill is located 7.5 km to the southwest of Spirit's landing location; White Hill is 11.2 km to the northwest; and Chaffee hill is 14.3 km south-southwest.
When selecting targets for Spirit and Opportunity, NASA engineers were very cautious about where the rovers could land. They needed to choose targets which had a low elevation, flat terrain, and free of large boulders that could destroy the spacecraft. Fortunately, both Gusev Crater and Meridiani Planum have enough scientific value to make the trip worthwhile. Since the airbag technology has been so successful, future missions might get a little more dangerous, like landing on a volcano.
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