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Steve Squyres

Mars Exploration Rovers Principal Investigator
Professor of Astronomy
Cornell University

¨  What are solar flares?
¨  Are the solar flares going to affect the MER project?
¨  How much money did it cost for the MER projects?
¨  Can water on Mars rust the spacecraft?

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QUESTION:
What are solar flares?

ANSWER from Steve Squyres on 17 December 2003:
Big outbursts of x-rays, protons, and other nasty things from the sun.  They're usually associated with sunspots.

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QUESTION:
Are the solar flares going to affect the MER project?

ANSWER from Steve Squyres on 17 December 2003:
Nope.  There was a huge solar flare back in October -- one of the largest on record -- and even that one only gave us a little bit of trouble.  Our spacecraft uses a special kind of camera, called a star tracker, to figure out how it is oriented in space.  In essence, it looks out at the stars to figure out which way it's pointed.  When the big flare hit us in October, it got our star trackers a little bit confused... when the protons hit the star tracker it created what looked like little flashes of light to the star tracker.  So we just stopped using the star trackers for awhile and let the spacecraft do without.  It didn't do any harm, and within a few days the sun settled down.  Things have been okay since then.  So if that monster flare didn't hurt us, we don't expect any serious problems.

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QUESTION:
How much money did it cost for the MER projects?

ANSWER from Steve Squyres on 17 December 2003:
The whole thing, including both spacecraft, both rockets, and everything else, was $800 million.

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QUESTION:
What would happen if there is water on Mars and your instruments, rovers and other machines started to rust?

ANSWER from Steve Squyres on 17 December 2003:
Not a problem.  First, Mars is too cold today for liquid water to exist.  Second, our rovers and instruments aren't made out of metal like steel that can rust.  Instead, they're made out of stuff like aluminum, titanium, graphite expoxy (the material a lot of high-tech golf clubs and tennis rackets are made of)... and that kind of material doesn't rust.

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Last Updated:
3 January 2004
 

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