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News Link • Science, Medicine and Technology

Riding Along With the Mars Rover Drivers

•, By Rebecca Boyle
 Scott Maxwell stared at his bedroom ceiling in the hours after his first drive, restless with excitement. All systems were go, and he'd sent the commands by the time he left the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Now he was supposed to sleep before his next shift on Mars time. But he knew that on the fourth planet from the sun, the Spirit rover’s wheels had started to move.

“I was thinking that at that moment, there is a robot on another planet, doing what I told it to do. I could not imagine going to sleep,” Maxwell recalls. “It just blew my mind. And I still think it’s amazing that what I do with my day job is reach out my hand across 100 million miles across of empty space, and move something on another planet.”

Maxwell is one member of a team of engineers and scientists who have spent nearly a decade working with NASA’s intrepid Mars Exploration Rovers, Spirit and Opportunity, maneuvering them across windblown Martian terrain and into groundbreaking new discoveries. Many of them, along with a new cadre of researchers, will also command the new Mars rover Curiosity, set to land in three weeks. That rover is far more complex and more powerful, and designed to last much longer than the twin rovers’ initial three-month lifespan. But the MER mission, as it’s known, set the stage in many ways — including how to live and work as a Mars rover driver.

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