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Mars mission scientist will live a 25-hour day

PASADENA, Calif. -- Steven Squyres, the principal investigator for the science instruments aboard the Spirit and Opportunity Mars rovers, juggles his commitments to the four space missions he is actively involved in, as well as to his teaching and advising duties, with an energetic ease that makes some wonder if he has found the secret to a 25-hour day.

Well yes, actually, he has.

Not 25 hours, to be exact, but 24 hours, 39 minutes and 35 seconds, the length of one Martian day, or "sol."

Squyres is preparing to live on Mars time for the duration of the two-rover mission, expected to be at least four months. Spirit is scheduled to touch down in the red planet's Gusev Crater on Jan. 3 at 11:35 p.m. EST; its twin, Opportunity, will land at Meridiani Planum on Jan. 25 at 12:05 a.m. EST.

The Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, a division of the California Institute of Technology, manages the Mars Exploration Rover project for NASA's Office of Space Science, Washington, D.C. Cornell University, Ithaca, N.Y., is managing the science suite of instruments carried by the two rovers.

"Our vehicles are tied to the Martian day/night cycle," says Squyres, who is professor of astronomy at Cornell. "They rely on a vision system to avoid obstacles," and being solar powered they must operate during daylight and "sleep" at night.

Because the rovers' daily communications windows also are tied to this cycle, Squyres, along with more than 200 other scientists and engineers, must lengthen his days to stay in sync.

Squyres admits that the longer days, at first, seem attractive -- "you get to sleep in 39 minutes later every day" -- but points out that there is "very little hard data on the physiological impact of extended Mars-time living."

The fundamental problem, says Squyres, is that team members must keep a longer day while exposed to outside stimuli that run on an exact 24-hour cycle.The entire rover team will work at the mission co
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Contact: David Brand
deb27@cornell.edu
607-255-3651
Cornell University News Service
22-Dec-2003


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