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NASA readies second space probe to Mars

NASA's second Mars space probe, containing a robotic rover designed to explore the surface of the mysterious Red Planet, is ready for launch.

india Updated: Jun 28, 2003 20:26 IST

The second of NASA's twin Mars space probes, each containing a robotic rover designed to explore the surface of the mysterious Red Planet, is ready for launch on Saturday night, the space agency said.

But weather could still intercede.

Latest forecasts give a 60 per cent chance of favourable weather conditions for the launch aboard a Delta II rocket from the military base at Cape Canaveral, Florida, adjacent to the Kennedy Space Center.

Liftoff of the rocket carrying the Mars Expedition Rover (MER-B), named "Opportunity," is tentatively set for 23:56 on Saturday night (0926 IST Sunday), with a second window, if needed, at 00:37 (1007 IST).

"The team has done everything possible to make this mission successful," NASA associate administrator Ed Weiler told a press conference on Friday. But he was reserved.

"Mars is a graveyard of spacecraft," he said. "The job is just beginning. It's not time for champagne quite yet. That time will come about 3 months after landing," programmed for January next year.

The first of the twin probes, MER-A, or "Spirit," was launched on June 10, beginning a three-month, 500 million kilometer voyage, intended to end on January 3, 2004 in the Gusev Crater, 15 degrees south of the equator of Mars.

The second probe is heading for the Meridiani Planum, a zone containing a concentration of ferrous oxide situated two degrees south of Mars' equator, where it is scheduled to set down on January 25, 2004 after a 491-million-kilometre journey.

First Published: Jun 28, 2003 20:09 IST