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Last Updated: Monday, 5 January, 2004, 19:53 GMT
Mars probe 'in great shape'
Spirit sent back this panoramic view

The robotic probe Spirit has landed in a prime spot for exploring Mars.

The first panoramic image taken by the six-wheeled robot shows what appears to be an impact crater carved by a space rock crashing into the planet.

Scientists plan to send the vehicle to investigate the dust-filled bowl once it is ready to move away from its landing site.

Impact craters are a good place to look for reservoirs of ice that are thought to be buried under the Martian surface.

Mission scientists have dubbed the crater "sleepy hollow".

"It's a hole in the ground, it's a window to the interior of Mars," said chief scientist Dr Steve Squyres. "It's a very exciting feature for us, probably the place we are going to go first."

Dream mission

Images and data sent back by Spirit are continuing to delight scientists.

Mars rover, Nasa
The rovers are the biggest vehicles ever sent to another planet
"Once again in this instance, reality has far surpassed fantasy," said technical specialist Art Thompson.

"...We can hardly wait until we get off the lander so we can start driving and doing fun stuff on the surface."

Spirit is about to wake up to spend its third Martian day on the surface.

Mission controllers, who are working on Martian time, plan to carry out more health checks on the rover as well as further preparations to prepare it for action.

On Monday, they established a direct communications link between Earth and the probe.

This means that Spirit can be commanded from the ground rather than relying on data sent via an orbiting spacecraft.

Scientists have confirmed that all of the scientific instruments tested so far are in good working order.

They include a device for analysing chemicals in rocks that appeared to be malfunctioning during the long cruise from Earth.

Panoramic images

Spirit is continuing to send back spectacular images of the Martian surface, including the first panoramic shot of where it bounced to rest.

An overhead view of the rover on the surface of Mars after its successful landing
Engineers have established direct contact with Spirit
The rover has taken what should be the best shot yet of its terrain, which will be sent back to Earth on Tuesday.

It is currently folded up on its landing pad and will not start driving around on the surface for at least a week or roughly nine sols. A sol is a Martian day.

There are concerns that airbags lodged against the front of the craft might block its path.

Commands will be sent to the probe on Tuesday in an attempt to retract the airbags to clear the obstruction.

Twin explorers

Spirit is one of a pair of rovers that will seek evidence for water on Mars.

Its twin, Opportunity, will touch down on the other side of Mars in late January.

Spirit will explore the Gusev Crater, just south of the Martian equator, which may once have held a lake.

Opportunity is landing in an area thought to be rich in chemicals associated with water.

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