NASA announced plans to name the landing site of the Mars
Opportunity rover in honor of the Space Shuttle Challenger’s
final crew. The area in the vast flatland called Meridiani
Planum, where Opportunity landed this weekend, will be called
the Challenger Memorial Station.

The seven-member crew of Space Shuttle Challenger was lost when
the orbiter suffered an in-flight breakup during launch Jan.
28, 1986, 18 years ago today.

NASA selected Meridiani Planum because of extensive deposits of
a mineral called crystalline hematite, which usually forms in
the presence of liquid water. Scientists had hoped for a
specific landing site where they could examine both the surface
layer that’s rich in hematite and an underlying geological
feature of light-colored layered rock. The small crater in
which Opportunity alighted appears to have exposures of both,
with soil that could be the hematite unit and an exposed
outcropping of the lighter rock layer.

Challenger’s 10th flight was to have been a six-day mission
dedicated to research and education, as well as the deployment
of the TDRS-B communications satellite.

Challenger’s commander was Francis R. Scobee and the mission
pilot was Michael J. Smith. Mission specialists included Judith
A. Resnik, Ellison S. Onizuka and Ronald E. McNair. The mission
also carried two payload specialists, Gregory B. Jarvis and
Sharon Christa McAuliffe, who was the agency’s first teacher in

Opportunity successfully landed on Mars Jan. 25. It will spend
the next three months exploring the region surrounding what is
now known as Challenger Memorial Station to determine if Mars
was ever watery and suitable to sustain life.

Opportunity’s twin, Spirit, is trailblazing a similar path on
the other side of the planet, in a Connecticut-sized feature
called Gusev Crater.

A composite image depicting the location of the Challenger
Memorial Station can be found on the Web at:

NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), a division of the
California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, manages the Mars
Exploration Rover project for NASA’s Office of Space Science in

Additional information about the project is available from
NASA, JPL and Cornell University, Ithaca, N.Y., on the Internet

A composite image reveals Challenger Memorial Station. The image is actually an amalgamation of a Mars Global Surveyor’s Mars Orbiter Camera image and the third and final picture taken by Opportunity’s DIMES camera ( Descent Image Motion Estimation System) during descent. The location of the site is a 20-meter (65.6 foot) wide, 2-meter (6.6 foot) deep crater just to the right of center in the composite image. The final crew of the space shuttle Challenger was lost when the shuttlesuffered an in-flight breakup during launch on Jan. 28, 1986.

Image Credit: NASA/JPL