Utah Space Buff Watches Pictures from Mars

Utah Space Buff Watches Pictures from Mars

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John Hollenhorst reporting It's a day for celebrating at NASA. And lots of other people are overjoyed, too, at the apparent success of the latest mission to Mars.

The unmanned rover named Spirit landed on the Red Planet last night, and early pictures look very good.

Spirit's mission is more a geologic expedition than a biological one.

But Spirit may help answer the question which has haunted human beings ever since they first stared up at the sky. Is there life elsewhere in the Universe?

Mission Controllers were overjoyed when radio signals started coming in from the Red Planet.

Richard Cook/NASA Project Manager: "I really, really, like doing this when it works like this."

After several UN-successful missions to Mars in recent years, this one was a rousing success.

Spirit survived it's descent through the thin Martian atmosphere and bounced to a safe landing in a crater.

Steve Squyres/NASA Rover Mission: "We are in the place where we absolutely wanted to be, in Gustav Crater. We are in a marvelous place."

On home computers and NASA television, Utah's best-known space buff, Patrick Wiggins, watched the early pictures.

Patrick Wiggins/NASA Ambassador: "It's just going so perfectly. And to get pictures like this back literally within hours of first touching down! This is just a tiny, tiny taste of what's coming!"

A second Rover will attempt a landing nearby on January 24th. Later pictures are expected to be in color, with 14 times the quality of these early scenes, the best cameras ever to make it to the surface of another planet. The primary mission is to search for evidence of water.

Wiggins: "If they find water, or evidence of water, then that very much increases the possibility at some time in the past there was life there and may still be today, down in the rocks. Not advanced life or whatever, but still, life!"

If life is ever found, it would be the greatest discovery of all time, Wiggins believes, well worth the cost to taxpayers.

Wiggins: "You've got to keep in mind that the total NASA budget, everything they spend in a year, is less than what people in this country spend on candy bars!"

For now, we have to be content with the rovers as our surrogate eyeballs on Mars. No manned missions to Mars are in the budget.

But Wiggins is firmly convinced we're going there someday. And he believes the first person to walk on Mars is probably some kid watching the marvelous Mars pictures on TV today.

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