NASA on Monday released a sweeping, 3-D panorama of the surface of Mars snapped by the newly landed rover Spirit, as scientists awaited the first detailed color images of the robot's surroundings.
Scientists marveled at the crisp black-and-white photograph and picked the likely first target the six-wheeled rover would visit: a dust-filled depression that tired members of the mission quickly dubbed "Sleepy Hollow."
"It's a hole in the ground, it's a window in the interior of Mars," said Steve Squyres, the mission's main scientist.
Reporters were given 3-D glasses to look at the image.
Later Monday, NASA expected to receive the first high-resolution color pictures from Spirit. The resolution was expected to be far higher than photos from any previous lander. The space agency issued a single color "thumbnail" image of a much larger Martian postcard it expected around midnight Monday.
"It's a postcard. You go somewhere, you buy a postcard and you send it home," said Jim Bell, of Cornell University, and a member of the mission science team.
The latest images show further details of what scientists believe is the rocky bed of an ancient lake that may have once harbored life.
The golf cart-sized Spirit landed on Mars late Saturday, safely returning the National Aeronautics and Space Administration to the planet's surface for the first time since the 1997 Pathfinder mission.
Just three hours after the unmanned robot landed, it began zipping the first black-and-white images of its surroundings to Earth, 106 million miles distant at the time.
"It was so gorgeous to see the horizon in the pictures. It's what we'd been imagining for so long," said Julie Townsend, a mission avionics engineer.
The first images from Spirit show a flat, wind-scoured plain peppered with small rocks, none more than a foot high. The scene enthused scientists, eager to send the rover prospecting among the rocks for evidence that the landing site once was awash in water.
"It's all stunning, it's all new and it's all different," said Wendy Calvin, of the University of Nevada, a scientist on the mission.
Calvin added the terrain appeared flatter and featured fewer and smaller rocks than the sites that Pathfinder and, in 1976, the twin Viking landers visited.
"I see a race track where we can drive for meters and meters and meters," Calvin said.
Late Sunday, NASA successfully established a link from Earth with Spirit's high-gain antenna. That link allows NASA to shuttle data directly between Spirit and Earth at transmission rates greater than 11,000 bits per second - about one-fifth the rate of a 56K dial-up connection to the Internet on Earth.
Spirit's fastest connection, at 128K, is expected to be through its UHF antenna. The antenna transmits data to the Mars Global Surveyor and 2001 Mars Odyssey spacecraft for later relay to Earth. The two satellites are in orbit around Mars.
The $820 million NASA Mars Exploration Rover project also includes a second golf cart-sized rover, Opportunity. That robot is set to reach the opposite side of Mars from its sibling on Jan. 24.
Spirit made an apparently flawless landing in Gusev Crater, a Connecticut-sized basin scientists believe once contained a brimming lake.
There were a few minor concerns about the mission. Scientists were trying to determine whether a dark object lodged against one corner of the lander was a rock that might block the rover once it's ready to roll onto the ground. On Sunday, mission members said the object could be a dirty piece of one of the air bags that cushioned the rover's landing.
Over the next three months, the robot geologist should look for geologic evidence of past water activity in the rocks and soil it was designed to analyze with its suite of instruments. If water once filled Gusev Crater, it may have been a place suitable for life.
It was a little warmer than expected - about 98 below zero Fahrenheit - possibly because of airborne dust trapping heat.
That meant Spirit's solar arrays were generating only 83 percent of the power expected, said Jennifer Trosper, Spirit's mission manager for surface operations.
That was plenty to conduct the mission, but could force mission managers to conserve power.
As early as Monday, Spirit could be told to raise itself up - a two-day process - and extend its front legs. It will take nine to 10 days before the six-wheeled robot is ready to roll off its lander and begin roaming Mars.
Spirit's successful landing bucked a trend of failed missions to Mars. Just one in three past attempts to land on the planet has succeeded. British scientists said Sunday they would keep trying to contact their probe, the Beagle 2, which was supposed to land on Mars on Christmas.
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