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Fido on Mars

        There's less than a year to go before the launch of NASA's Mars Exploration Rover mission, and in addition to testing all the hardware several dozen times, scientists have been practicing to ways to run the the new little Mars Rover — very much like kids learning the ropes on a new remotely controlled toy.
        In early August a team hauled one of the test Rovers (called Fido, by the way, for Field Integrated Design Operations testbed) far out into the desert. Where? They weren't saying; the operations team had to steer it hands-off, just at they will the real Rover, once it gets to Mars.
        The 10-day blind test offered challenges similar to the ones Fido's pals will meet on on the red planet. By running Fido again and again, JPL scientists are learning how to identify (and interpret) the images and science data that will help them learn Mars' desert geology.
        The Mars Exploration Rovers will be launched in May and June 2003. Onc ethey get to in January 2004, they'll spend at least three months conducting surface operations, looking for desert features that might prove -- or disprove -- the idea that Mars once had a real water supply. More than 60 scientists from around the world will be telling the rovers what to do and where to go from the mission control room at JPL.
        The rovers are currently being built at JPL and will be shipped to the Kennedy Space Center in Florida early next year to begin preparations for launch. Shortly before the launch, NASA will select the landing sites.

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