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NASA's Mars Exploration Rover Spirit.
It looks like NASA is still a long way from getting the space shuttles ready to fly again, according to the interim report released today by the Return to Flight task group. Although NASA is addressing all 29 issues suggested by the recommendations of the Columbia Accident Investigation Board, the progress is reported as "uneven". So far, none of the tasks have been completed. NASA is currently targeting September 12 for the date of the first shuttle launch after the Columbia disaster, but many experts think that date could be pushed back even further.
Before humans can take the first tentative steps onto the Martian surface, our robots will have spent many years examining the planet to let us know exactly what to expect. Spirit and Opportunity will examine the dirt to see if there's water that can be extracted. They'll also examine the dust to see if it contains chemicals that could be detrimental to humans if it was inhaled. Robots will also help us figure out the best location humans should go to maybe mine for subsurface reserves of water or stay protected from the solar radiation.
NASA's Mars Exploration Rover Spirit drove a few metres yesterday to get nice and close to a large rock nearby the landing site which scientists have dubbed "Adirondack". Spirit will examine the rock with its microscope and two instruments that will reveal its composition. To make the drive to this rock, Spirit turned 40-degrees and then rolled 1.9 metres. Engineers are still taking "baby steps" with Spirit, since this first target took the rover 30 minutes to travel.
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