November 2005

Spotlight On…   Mars Rover Mission

 Artist’s concept of Mars Exploration Rover

Mars has been an endless source of fascination for scientists and amateur astronomers since Galileo first trained his telescope on the red planet. Scientists are now closer than ever to knowing if life ever existed on Mars.

Spirit, the first of two robotic geologists sent to Mars, landed successfully in Gusev Crater on January 3, and shortly afterwards began transmitting images to scientists at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Spirit will spend the next three months examining the rocks and soil of Mars to determine if the planet was ever watery and sustained life. Its twin Rover, Opportunity, is scheduled to land on the opposite surface of Mars on January 25 and will pursue a similar series of experiments. For anyone interested in astronomy or science, this is a very exciting time!

Mars on the Web: Stay on top of the Rover’s progress with these resources.

The Jet Propulsion Laboratory’s website has loads of information about the Mars Exploration Rovers, including a history of the project, a complete description of the launch vehicle, spacecraft and the rover, an explanation of how the scientists plan to use the rovers to study the geology of the Red Planet, and an image gallery.

NOVA’s companion website is another excellent resource. There you’ll find interviews with scientists involved in the project, an overview of the robotic geologists and their instruments.

Cornell University’s website about the project contains mission updates, image and video galleries, and resources for kids and educators.

You’ll find news bulletins, background reading material, and many images on the Space.com Mars Rover website.

In the 1970s the U.S. sent two Viking spacecraft to explore and photograph the surface of Mars. NASA’s website provides access to images from those missions and detailed information about the spacecraft.

Mars at the Library

If you’re interested in doing some background reading about astronomy, Mars, or the history of space exploration, the Main Library’s Science & Technology Department is a good place to begin your search for information. Here’s a sample of some of the titles you’ll find in the collection:

the cover of Mars: The Mystery Unfolds by Peter John Cattermole

Mars: The Mystery Unfolds
Peter John Cattermole
Mars through the eyes of a geologist. Includes chapters on craters, dunes, the polar regions, and the climate.

Patrick Moore On Mars
Patrick Moore
In this engaging primer of “everything Mars related,” Moore offers readers a historical survey of the red planet’s history, geography, and meteorology.

Mapping Mars: Science, Imagination, and the Birth of a World
Oliver Morton
Vivid descriptions of some of the red planet’s astonishing topographical features and
an eloquently written account of scientific efforts to map the surface of Mars.

the cover of Uncovering The Secrets of the Red Planet by Paul Raeburn

Uncovering The Secrets of the Red Planet: Mars
Paul Raeburn
An overview of our fascination with Mars and background information about the missions sent to photograph and explore the planet. Raeburn’s text is accompanied by glorious photographs from those missions.

Managing Martians
Donna Shirley
Shirley, the first woman to manage a NASA space flight program, chronicles the triumphs and hardships she encountered in pursuit of her lifelong dream to become an aeronautical engineer.

Sojourner: An Insider’s View of the Mars Pathfinder Mission
Andrew Mishkin
A senior systems engineer at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory offers a behind-the-scenes look at the development of “Sojourner,” the rover sent to Mars as part of the Pathfinder mission.

the cover of A Traveler’s Guide To Mars by William K. Hartmann

A Traveler’s Guide To Mars: The Mysterious Landscapes of the Red Planet
William K. Hartmann
A “splendid overview of the Red Planet,” from one of the participants in the Mars Global Surveyor Mission. Hartmann’s travelogue covers Martian topography, geography, geology, and history.


The Government and Business Department has an excellent collection of NASA documents. Many of these publications chronicle America’s long-running observation & exploration of the red planet. Here’s a selection of resources from the Department’s collection:

Atlas of Mars: The 1:5,000,000 Map Series
P.D. NAS 1.21: 438. 1978.
A remarkable atlas that combines photographs from the Mariner and Viking missions.

The Book of Mars
P.D. NAS 1.21: no. 179. 1968.
This NASA textbook on Mars was written at the dawn of space exploration.

Mars as Viewed by Mariner 9
P.D. NAS 1.21: 329. 1974.
In late 1971, Mariner 9 approached Mars and became the first man-made object to orbit the red planet. The spacecraft sent back over 7,000 images, photographing virtually the entire surface of Mars.

The Mars Observer Mission
P.D. I1.27/7: 400-504. 1993.
Not every NASA Mars mission has been successful. NASA lost contact with the Observer just before it entered Martian orbit in 1993.

The Martian Landscape
P.D. NAS 1.21: 425. 1978,
The Viking spacecraft sent back thousands of images, all in black and white. This book includes some color-enhanced photographs (which are remarkably similar to those the Spirit Lander is transmitting back today).

The New Mars: Discoveries of Mariner 9
P.D. NAS 1.21: no. 337. 1974.
Learn how the Mariner 9 mission changed our knowledge about Mars in this illustrated volume.

On Mars: Exploration of the Red Planet 1958–1978
P.D. NAS 1.21:SP 4212.
This NASA Special Publication is the most detailed account of Martian exploration efforts, both successful and unsuccessful.

Two Over Mars: Mariner VI and VII.
P.D. NAS1.19:90 1971.
A detailed look at twin Mariner missions to Mars. Although the spacecrafts didn’t land, they did send back thousands of images to scientists on Earth.

Mars in Fiction: Explore the planet through the imagination of leading science fiction writers.

the cover of Red Mars by Kim Stanley Robinson

Red Mars
Kim Stanley Robinson
In this first volume of Robinson’s sprawling, award-winning Mars trilogy, the Martians are human colonists undertaking to terraform the Red Planet.

The Martian Race
Gregory Benford
Two privately financed exploratory missions compete for a prize of 30 billion dollars to be awarded to the first successful human expedition to reach the surface of Mars.

Return To Mars
Ben Bova
In the sequel to Mars, Navajo geologist Jamie Waterman leads a second voyage to the Red Planet for further research on the lichen organism he discovered previously. Sabotage, however, by someone, or by something, threatens the mission.

the cover of The Forge of Mars by Bruce Balfour

The Forge of Mars
Bruce Balfour
Alien artifacts found in a canyon on Mars hint of an ancient conflict that poses a continuing danger to members of a NASA exploratory expedition.

The Sky So Big and Black
John Barnes
On colonized Mars at the end of the 21st century, the daughter of a prospector treks into the wilderness, where her party is endangered by deadly solar radiation from sunspot activity.

The Martian Chronicles
Ray Bradbury
Human colonists confront the dreams and terrors of their own imaginations on a frontier landscape manipulated by elusive Martians, the last of a dying race. An indisputable classic originally published in 1950.

Are We Alone?

You can participate in the search for extraterrestrial intelligence by visiting the SETI website and downloading a special program that gives your computer the ability to analyze data captured by the world’s largest radio telescope.