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Mars the Red Planet.
Pathfinder was the size of a shoebox; the Mars Exploration Rovers are as big as golf-carts; but a future Martian rover could be as big as a mini-van. Engineers from Montana State University are helping to design the Mars Scientific Laboratory (MSL), which could make its way to the Red planet by 2009. Unlike Spirit and Opportunity, which are solar powered, the MSL will have a nuclear reactor, so it will be able to remain operational on the surface for an entire Martian year (two years on Earth), and measure long-term climate changes.
Researchers from MIT are planning to test the effects of Martian gravity on mammals, by sending 15 mice into orbit for five weeks. The mice would be launched aboard a one-metre "spaceship", which would be spun so that the force mimics the gravity on Mars. Scientist know that weightlessness causes health problems, including bone loss, but human travelers to Mars could stay for months or even years in a permanent outpost - it's critical to know if the human body can handle it. If all goes well, the mission could launch in 2006.
NASA's Spirit rover successfully rolled off the landing platform and out onto the Martian surface this morning, beginning its mission of exploration. The rover traveled 3 meters in 78 seconds, and it ended up about 80 centimetres away from the lander. Now that Spirit's firmly on the ground, NASA scientists and engineers will make daily decisions about what science tasks it will perform, and where it will travel. Spirit's twin rover, Opportunity, will arrive on Mars on January 25 to explore another region on the other side of the planet.
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