NASA Administrator Sean O’Keefe today announced plans to
name the landing site of the Mars Spirit Rover in honor of the
astronauts who died in the tragic accident of the Space Shuttle
Columbia in February. The area in the vast flatland of the
Gusev Crater where Spirit landed this weekend will be called
the Columbia Memorial Station.

Since its historic landing, Spirit has been sending
extraordinary images of its new surroundings on the red planet
over the past few days. Among them, an image of a memorial
plaque placed on the spacecraft to Columbia’s astronauts and
the STS-107 mission.

The plaque is mounted on the back of Spirit’s high-gain
antenna, a disc-shaped tool used for communicating directly
with Earth. The plaque is aluminum and approximately six inches
in diameter. The memorial plaque was attached March 28, 2003,
at the Payload Hazardous Servicing Facility at NASA’s Kennedy
Space Center, Fla. Chris Voorhees and Peter Illsley, Mars
Exploration Rover engineers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion
Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., designed the plaque.

“During this time of great joy for NASA, the Mars Exploration
Rover team and the entire NASA family paused to remember our
lost colleagues from the Columbia mission. To venture into
space, into the unknown, is a calling heard by the bravest,
most dedicated individuals,” said NASA Administrator Sean
O’Keefe. “As team members gazed at Mars through Spirit’s eyes,
the Columbia memorial appeared in images returned to Earth, a
fitting tribute to their own spirit and dedication. Spirit
carries the dream of exploration the brave astronauts of
Columbia held in their hearts.”

Spirit successfully landed on Mars Jan. 3. It will spend the
next three months exploring the barren landscape to determine
if Mars was ever watery and suitable to sustain life. Spirit’s
twin, Opportunity, will reach Mars on Jan. 25 to begin a
similar examination of a site on the opposite side of the

A copy of the image is available on the Internet at: