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2003 Rover Even with the development of increasingly precise landers, we don't want to be stuck in just one spot on Mars. Rovers give us the ability to explore an area outside the landing ellipse. Our first rover to visit Mars, Sojourner, traveled about 100 meters (100 yards) over an entire month. The next two rovers to visit Mars will be part of a mission launching in 2003. These identical rovers, called Mars Exploration Rovers, will land on different parts of the planet and each will be able to cover up to 100 meters (0.062 miles) in a day. Both twins are also expected to have the ability to range over approximately 1 kilometer in the duration of their mission.

Unlike Sojourner, the twin rovers will be completely independent of their landers once they reach the planet and will communicate directly with Earth. They will rely on smart technologies to know where they are, where they want to go and which soil and rock samples are worth studying and collecting.

Future Rovers

To explore the planet further, future generations of rovers must go farther and move faster. When the range of the rover is larger than the uncertainty in where it lands, it is possible to reach small targets of exceptional scientific interest such as a channel where water is believed to have seeped out of the ground. One approach to long-range mobility is inflatable rovers, inflatable Rover which would use very large, inflatable wheels to climb over rocks, instead of traveling around them. This would allow inflatables to travel much farther and faster than current rovers. These rovers are only inflated after arrival on the Mars surface. Prior to inflation, they are lighter and, when deflated, can be packed in a smaller volume than a conventional rover of the same physical size. When deployed, the inflatable rover is approximately 50 times its packed volume; a conventional rover is only two or three times bigger than when packed.

Future rovers will also be "smarter" and able to reconfigure themselves to the terrain. For instance, a rover may have an adjustable shoulder that allows it to drop low to the ground or elevate itself to navigate through a gully or crater. They will conduct more sophisticated experiments such as using ground-penetrating radar to search for evidence of water. Future rovers will also maneuver to precision rendezvous with other surface vehicles such as the carriers. Eventually, teams of robotic rovers will work together to build an infrastructure of robotic colonies, laying the groundwork for human visits and human bases. Thus, if human exploration is indeed possible on the Red Planet one day, it will be robotic rovers that pave the way.

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