NOVA viewers last glimpsed the rovers one year into their pioneering exploration. At the end of NOVA's award-winning Welcome to Mars, Spirit was poised to begin the first, daunting ascent of a Martian mountain in the Columbia Hills. It took 400 days to reach the top, where it shot a magnificent panorama and found signs of a radically different environment from the placid layers of its landing spot. Phoenix is the direct descendant of the failed Mars Polar Lander, which was lost as it touched down on the Red Planet in 1999. NOVA will report on how engineers set out to identify and correct previous flaws and anticipate the many unknowns of landing for the first time in the Martian arctic. NOVA will show scientists actively directing the operations of Phoenix and the rovers this summer and explore the question of why the rovers have lasted so much longer than predicted. NOVA will dramatize the project's many close calls, such as the colossal dust storm a year ago that blanketed the entire planet and threatened to shut down the rovers' solar cells. And with eloquent help from Steve Squyres, NOVA will show how this bold project has led to the first detailed reconstruction of the past of an alien planet, with provocative implications for one of the biggest questions of all: whether life is common or plentiful in the universe.
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