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Volume 95, Issue 6

GRAPHIC:  Research Next Generation

This artist’s conception of a NASA Mars Exploration Rover portrays the rover after landing on the Red Planet. University physicist Thanasis Economou is on the science teams for two missions—”Spirit,” launched June 10, and “Opportunity,” launched July 7—to examine the rocks and soil of Mars for evidence that water ever existed there. Each rover is equipped with an Alpha Proton X-ray Spectrometer, similar to the one that Economou and chemistry professor emeritus Anthony Turkevich designed and built for the 1997 Mars Pathfinder mission to detect chemicals necessary for life, such as carbon, nitrogen, and oxygen. (Economou also serves as a consultant for Europe’s Mars Express mission, an orbiter launched June 2 whose Beagle 2 lander carries a chemical analysis instrument.)

When the two NASA rovers reach Mars in January 2004, they will bounce to airbag-cushioned landings, “Spirit” at the mineral-rich Meridiani Planum and “Opportunity” halfway around the planet at the Gusev Crater, promising because it appears to be an ancient lake bed.


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