Spirit’s Trail

Spirit’s Trail

Shadow cast by Spirit over Gusev tire tracks. Image Credit: NASA/JPL

Before moving on to explore more of Mars, NASA’s Mars Exploration Rover Spirit looked back at the long and winding trail of twin wheel tracks the rover created to get to the top of "Husband Hill." Spirit spent several days in October 2005 at this location, perched on a lofty, rock-strewn incline next to a precarious outcrop nicknamed "Hillary."

The crest of "Husband Hill" offered Spirit’s views of possible routes into a basin to the south with apparently layered outcrops. Shortly after Spirit landed, it observed a cluster of seven hills about 3 kilometers (2 miles) east of its landing site. NASA proposed naming the range "Columbia Hills" in tribute to the last crew of Space Shuttle Columbia. The tallest of the hills commemorates Rick Husband, Columbia’s commander.

Researchers helped the rover make several wheel adjustments to get solid footing before conducting scientific analysis of the rock outcrop. The rock turned out to be similar in appearance and composition to a rock target called "Jibsheet" PIA07979 that the rover had studied several months earlier and hundreds of meters away.

Tracks in the Martian soil made by the Spirit rover. Image Credit: NASA/JPL/OSU/Cornell

To the west are the slopes of the "Columbia Hills." Beyond the hills are the flat plains and rim of Gusev Crater. The summit sits 82 meters (269 feet) above the edge of the surrounding plains. It is 106 meters (348 feet) higher than the site where Spirit landed nearly 20 months ago. Spirit and twin rover, Opportunity, successfully completed their three-month prime missions in April 2004. They have inspected dozens of rocks and soil targets since then, continuing their pursuit of geological evidence about formerly wet conditions on Mars.

Spirit took this 360-degree panorama of images with its navigation camera on the 627th Martian day, or sol, (Oct. 7, 2005) of its exploration of Gusev Crater on Mars. This view is presented in a cylindrical projection with geometric seam correction.

The landing site and the Columbia Hills are within Gusev Crater, a bowl about 150 kilometers (95 miles) in diameter. The crater was selected as the landing site for the Spirit rover because the shape of the terrain suggests the crater once held a lake. Volcanic deposits appear to have covered any sign of ancient lakebed geology out on the plain, but scientists say the hills expose older layers that have been lifted and tipped by a meteorite impact or other event.

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