Ed Yeates reporting NASA has asked the head of a Utah based company to sit in the Jet Propulsion Lab's control room tonight as the second rover named "Opportunity" lands on the other side of Mars. That landing is scheduled about 10pm MST tonight.
Just like it's twin rover "Spirit," "Opportunity, encased in huge trampoline like air bags, will drop and bounce across Martian soil.
If everything goes as planned - no trouble - opportunity's landing tonight on the red planet will be at the highest altitude any spacecraft has visited so far.
Robert Bigelow / Clark Planetarium: "This is actually at a lot higher altitude. It's also on the other side of the planet who knows what it's going to be like. That's the exciting thing about it."
What NASA hopes to find in this rougher territory a long distance from Spirit - rocks containing hematite - a mineral, which on earth, forms in the presence of water.
Robert Bigelow / Clark Planetarium:"Did this hematite form because there was an ocean that covered it and it formed in the ocean - or was it the result of volcanic action."
Once Opportunity appears from it's cocoon, NASA scientists will let it sit - longer than Spirit did - to make sure this second rover doesn't have some of the same glitches.
And while all this unfolds - the head of one of ATK's corporate divisions will watch at the Jet Propulsion Lab.
The Utah division of that company made the rocket boosters that got the whole thing off the ground last June and July - plus the rugged housing for the spacecraft.
Kevin Cummings/Vice President, ATK Thiokol Propulsion: "ATK provided the boost system, the thrust reaction system as we came to a landing to give it a soft landing. Plus we inflated the air bags."
Also, that long E.T. neck cameras are mounted on? You guessed it - ATK composite hardware made in Utah. So far, none of THESE components have failed.
Kevin Cummings/Vice President, ATK Thiokol Propulsion: "We are involved from one end to the other in this."
Even more challenging - come 2008, a third landing by yet another spacecraft near the red planet's polar cap --- frozen ice where robots for the first time can actually touch and feel water?
Clark Planetarium tonight will have live NASA TV coverage of "Opportunity's" approach and landing - beginning at 8:30. It's free and open to the public.