NASA Administrator Sean O'Keefe today announced plans to name the landing site of the Mars Spirit Rover in honor of the astronauts who died in the tragic accident of the Space Shuttle Columbia in February. The area in the vast flatland of the Gusev Crater where Spirit landed this weekend will be called the Columbia Memorial Station.
Since its historic landing, Spirit has been sending extraordinary images of its new surroundings on the red planet over the past few days. Among them, an image of a memorial plaque placed on the spacecraft to Columbia's astronauts and the STS-107 mission.
The plaque is mounted on the back of Spirit's high-gain antenna, a disc-shaped tool used for communicating directly with Earth. The plaque is aluminum and approximately six inches in diameter. The memorial plaque was attached March 28, 2003, at the Payload Hazardous Servicing Facility at NASA's Kennedy Space Center, Fla. Chris Voorhees and Peter Illsley, Mars Exploration Rover engineers at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., designed the plaque.
"During this time of great joy for NASA, the Mars Exploration Rover team and the entire NASA family paused to remember our lost colleagues from the Columbia mission. To venture into space, into the unknown, is a calling heard by the bravest, most dedicated individuals," said NASA Administrator Sean O'Keefe. "As team members gazed at Mars through Spirit's eyes, the Columbia memorial appeared in images returned to Earth, a fitting tribute to their own spirit and dedication. Spirit carries the dream of exploration the brave astronauts of Columbia held in their hearts."
Spirit successfully landed on Mars Jan. 3. It will spend the next three months exploring the barren landscape to determine if Mars was ever watery and suitable to sustain life. Spirit's twin, Opportunity, will reach Mars on Jan. 25 to begin a similar examination of a site on the opposite side of the planet.
A copy of the image is available on the Internet at: http://www.nasa.gov