NASA launched its second Mars Exploration Rover, Opportunity, late
Monday night aboard a Delta II launch vehicle whose bright glare
briefly illuminated Florida Space Coast beaches.

Opportunity’s dash to Mars began with liftoff at 11:18:15 p.m. Eastern
Daylight Time (8:18:15 p.m. Pacific Daylight Time) from Cape Canaveral
Air Force Station, Fla.

The spacecraft separated successfully from the Delta’s third stage 83
minutes later, after it had been boosted out of Earth orbit and onto a
course toward Mars. Flight controllers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion
Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., received a signal from Opportunity at
12:43 a.m. Tuesday EDT (9:43 p.m. Monday PDT) via the Goldstone,
Calif., antenna complex of NASA’s Deep Space Network.

All systems on the spacecraft are operating as expected, JPL’s Richard
Brace, Mars Exploration Rover deputy project manager, reported.

“We have a major step behind us now,” said Pete Theisinger, project
manager. “There are still high-risk parts of this mission ahead of us,
but we have two spacecraft on the way to Mars, and that’s wonderful.”

NASA Associate Administrator for Space Science Dr. Ed Weiler said,
“Opportunity joins Spirit and other Mars-bound missions from the
European Space Agency, Japan and the United Kingdom, which together
mark the most extensive exploration of another planet in history. This
ambitious undertaking is an amazing feat for Planet Earth and the
human spirit of exploration.”

As of early Tuesday, Opportunity’s twin, Spirit, has traveled 77
million kilometers (48 million miles) since its launch on June 10 and
is operating in good health.

Opportunity is scheduled to arrive at a site on Mars called Meridiani
Planum on Jan. 25, 2004, Universal Time (evening of Jan. 24, Eastern
and Pacific times), three weeks after Spirit lands in a giant crater
about halfway around the planet.

NASA’s Mars Global Surveyor orbiter has identified deposits at
Meridiani Planum of a type of mineral that usually forms in wet
environments. Both rovers will function as robotic geologists,
examining rocks and soil for clues about whether past environments at
their landing sites may have been hospitable to life.

JPL is a division of the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena.
It built the rovers and manages the Mars Exploration Rover project for
the NASA Office of Space Science, Washington, D.C.
Information about the rovers and the scientific instruments they carry
is available online from JPL at and from
Cornell University, Ithaca, N.Y., at