NASA rover has its landing instructions

The first of NASA's twin Mars Exploration Rovers is set to land on the Red Planet tomorrow night after receiving its landing instructions only three weeks ago.

The space agency's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., uploaded the landing software to the rover Spirit during the second week of December, said Mike Deliman, a technical staff member at Wind River Systems Inc. of Alameda, Calif.

Spirit's approximate landing time will be 11:35 p.m. EST Saturday.

Wind River made the operating system, VxWorks OS, that runs on the radiation-hardened 20-MHz Rad 6000 CPU module aboard the NASA rovers. Deliman has served the Mars rover project as chief engineer for the operating system.

Although JPL programmers wrote the code for the spacecraft landing, Deliman fielded questions from the NASA team about the operating system's capabilities.

Deliman said that he had received word from Roger Klemm, a flight software developer at JPL, that the software uplink had gone smoothly.

'All we have to do now is cross our fingers and wait,' Deliman said.

Spirit's onboard computer has only 128M of memory, so 'there's not a whole lot of instructions we can give it,' Deliman said. Once the rover has landed successfully and is in contact with Earth, JPL will erase the landing commands and reprogram Spirit to crawl over the Martian surface and analyze rocks and soil with its onboard instruments.

Spirit and its twin rover, Opportunity, were launched toward Mars last summer (Click for GCN coverage). Opportunity is slated to land on the Red Planet Jan. 24. Deliman said he did not know whether Opportunity has received its landing software yet.

Images from the mission can be seen at http://marsrovers.jpl.nasa.gov/gallery/.

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