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NASA // JPL // Cornell University, Maas Digital LLC (Public Domain)
NASA // JPL // Cornell University, Maas Digital LLC (Public Domain)

On This Day in 2003, NASA's Spirit Rover Headed to Mars

NASA // JPL // Cornell University, Maas Digital LLC (Public Domain)
NASA // JPL // Cornell University, Maas Digital LLC (Public Domain)

On June 10, 2003, NASA launched the Spirit rover on its mission to Mars. It preceded the twin rover Opportunity, which launched on July 7. Spirit landed on Mars on January 4, 2004.

Spirit was intended to operate for 90 days, but it continued functioning for six years, thanks in part to wind blowing dust off its solar panels. The rover had a flaky front wheel, but its other five were fine—leading mission controllers to drive the rover backwards, dragging the broken wheel for a total of 4.8 miles on the Martian surface.

Spirit became permanently stuck in the soil in 2009 and stopped communicating in 2010. Over its service lifetime, Spirit sent back 128,224 images. (Opportunity is now over 220,000.)

The twin rovers are active on Twitter, with Opportunity nicknamed "Oppy." The twins have now provided nearly a decade and a half of on-the-ground science. To further understand the rovers' success, check out this NASA documentary made five years into their mission:

If you're interested in the current status of Opportunity science, NASA has you covered.

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History
The Queen of Code: Remembering Grace Hopper
By Lynn Gilbert, CC BY-SA 4.0, Wikimedia Commons

Grace Hopper was a computing pioneer. She coined the term "computer bug" after finding a moth stuck inside Harvard's Mark II computer in 1947 (which in turn led to the term "debug," meaning solving problems in computer code). She did the foundational work that led to the COBOL programming language, used in mission-critical computing systems for decades (including today). She worked in World War II using very early computers to help end the war. When she retired from the U.S. Navy at age 79, she was the oldest active-duty commissioned officer in the service. Hopper, who was born on this day in 1906, is a hero of computing and a brilliant role model, but not many people know her story.

In this short documentary from FiveThirtyEight, directed by Gillian Jacobs, we learned about Grace Hopper from several biographers, archival photographs, and footage of her speaking in her later years. If you've never heard of Grace Hopper, or you're even vaguely interested in the history of computing or women in computing, this is a must-watch:

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science
Why Are Glaciers Blue?
iStock
iStock

The bright azure blue sported by many glaciers is one of nature's most stunning hues. But how does it happen, when the snow we see is usually white? As Joe Hanson of It's Okay to Be Smart explains in the video below, the snow and ice we see mostly looks white, cloudy, or clear because all of the visible light striking its surface is reflected back to us. But glaciers have a totally different structure—their many layers of tightly compressed snow means light has to travel much further, and is scattered many times throughout the depths. As the light bounces around, the light at the red and yellow end of the spectrum gets absorbed thanks to the vibrations of the water molecules inside the ice, leaving only blue and green light behind. For the details of exactly why that happens, check out Hanson's trip to Alaska's beautiful (and endangered) Mendenhall Glacier below.

[h/t The Kid Should See This]

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