Fantastic Voyages

2002s on the Red Planet


Fabled ALPINA 2002ti aboard MAVEN transporter

MAVEN’s (Mars Atmospheric and Volatile EvolutioN)  primary mission is obtaining critical measurements of the Martian atmosphere to help understand dramatic climate change on the red planet over its history. However a fleet of them has joined the Mars transporter fleet to help shuttle the cars and crew for this years 2002 Mars excursion.

This image looking toward a fading Earth shows the famous 1970 BMW 2002ti ALPINA race car masked to MAVEN on its trek to participate in this years Le Mars endurance race.  Since 2002, the 24 Hours Le Mars has been a part of the FIA Galactic Endurance Championship.

MAVEN has made direct observations of a metal-ion layer in the Martian ionosphere, the first direct detection on any planet other than the Earth. The ions are produced by a steady influx of incoming interplanetary dust.

MAVEN has also demonstrated that the majority of the CO2 on the planet has been lost to space and that there isn’t enough left to terraform the planet by warming it, even if the CO2 could be released and put back into the atmosphere. Bit of a bummer huh?

One again the team is looking forward to a great road trip exploring the historic Martian sites and artifacts, the race, and of course the driving.

Photo-op with Spirit in Gusev Crater

This image shows the celebrated Spirit Mars Exploration Rover next to a newly arrived cosmosschwarz BMW 2002 on the flank of "Husband Hill” inside Gusev Crater, located in the Columbia Hills region.  This amazing image was produced using "Virtual Presence in Space" technology developed at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.

Three outcrops near each other on the flank of "Husband Hill" inside Gusev Crater are visible behind the 2002 on this false-color view taken on the FAQ 2002 team’s first martian day, or sol (February 1st, 2019).

Spirit was launched June 10, 2003 UTC aboard a Delta II 7925 Launch Vehicle, and landed on the Red Planet January 4, 2004. Spirit, and Opportunity its identical twin, are robotic rovers that have gone far beyond their original scientific objectives to rewrite our understanding of the early history of Mars. NASA sent these two “robotic geologists” on a 90-day mission to search for geological clues regarding environmental conditions on early Mars, and assess whether those environments were conducive to life. Spirit’s final communication to Earth occurred on March 22, 2010, about six years into its mission. The rover lasted 20 times longer than its original design.

Mineral springs once burbled up from the rocks of Columbia Hills. The discovery that hot springs flowed here was a major achievement of the Mars Exploration Rover, Spirit. The rover's discovery was an especially welcome surprise because Spirit had not found signs of water anywhere else in the 100-mile (160-kilometer)-wide Gusev Crater. After the  Spirit rover stopped working in 2010, studies of its older data records showed evidence that past floods that may have formed a shallow lake in Gusev. Visiting Spirit has become a popular stop.

Skupper & Curiosity at Duluth

This self-portrait of NASA's Curiosity Mars rover and the infamous “Skupper” orbiter shows the robot at a drilled sample site called "Duluth" on the lower slopes of Mount Sharp. A Martian dust storm reduced sunlight and visibility in Gale Crater, making the trek more than a tad exhilarating for the 2002 for this meet-up.  Amazingly, the Skupper (an ex-Soviet 1970 2002tii that was the first BMW 2002 to orbit the red planet) has been de-orbited, retro-fitted and prepped to participate in this years Le Mars race. The north-northeast wall and rim of the crater lie beyond the car and rover, their visibility obscured by atmospheric dust.

"Duluth" was the first rock sample captured by the rover's drill since October 2016. A mechanical issue took the drill offline in December 2016. On May 20, 2018, a new technique, called Feed Extended Drilling (FED) was used to steady the drill against Martian rocks.

For scale, the rover's wheels are 20 inches (50 centimeters) in diameter and about 16 inches (40 centimeters) wide. The wheels on this 2002 racecar are only slightly narrower.  Curiosity’s drilling produces a hole about 0.6 inches (1.6 centimeters) in diameter.

This is another rover self-portrait view created from stitching together multiple MAHLI images and again does not include the rover's arm. Wrist motions and turret rotations on the arm allowed MAHLI to acquire the mosaic's component images. The arm was positioned out of the shot in the images, or portions of images, that were used in this mosaic.

Helicopter transport by 2002

This image shows the Mars Helicopter prototype, a small, autonomous rotorcraft, atop a nicely-restored Riviera Blue ’69 2002.  Besides all the fun enjoyed on the Mars expedition, several of the 02ers also provide essential testing and logistics services for NASA while they’re here - in this case helping evaluate rapid deployment options using this full scale rotorcraft prototype.

The Mars Helicopter will travel with NASA's Mars 2020 rover mission, currently scheduled to launch in July 2020, to demonstrate the viability and potential of heavier-than-air vehicles on the Red Planet.  The prototype will be aloft providing some great aerial shots for this years Le Mars race coverage.

Jibsheet Dusk Silhouettes

This stunning view captures a Taiga 2002 and the Spirit Mars Exploration Rover silhouetted atop of a rock called "Jibsheet" just as the Sun sinks below the rim of Gusev crater on Mars. This Panoramic Camera (Pancam) mosaic was taken around 6:07 in the evening of the FAQer’s 4th martian day, or sol.

This small panorama of the western sky was obtained using Pancam's 750-nanometer, 530-nanometer and 430-nanometer color filters. This filter combination allows false color images to be generated that are similar to what a human would see, but with the colors slightly exaggerated. In this image, the bluish glow in the sky above the Sun or the unmistakable green of the 2002 would be visible to us if we were there, but an artifact of the Pancam's infrared imaging capabilities is that with this filter combination the redness of the sky farther from the sunset is exaggerated compared to the daytime colors of the martian sky. Because Mars is farther from the Sun than the Earth is, the Sun appears only about two-thirds the size that it appears in a sunset seen from the Earth.

The terrain in the foreground is the rock outcrop "Jibsheet," a feature that Spirit has been investigating for several weeks (rover and car tracks are dimly visible leading up to "Jibsheet"). The floor of Gusev crater is visible in the distance, and the Sun is setting behind the wall of Gusev some 80 km (50 miles) in the distance.

This mosaic is yet another example from MER of a beautiful, sublime martian scene that also captures some important scientific information. Specifically, sunset and twilight images are occasionally acquired by the science team to determine how high into the atmosphere the martian dust extends, and to look for dust or ice clouds. Other images have shown that the twilight glow remains visible, but increasingly fainter, for up to two hours before sunrise or after sunset. The long martian twilight (compared to Earth's) is caused by sunlight scattered around to the night side of the planet by abundant high altitude dust. Similar long twilights or extra-colorful sunrises and sunsets sometimes occur on Earth when tiny dust grains that are erupted from powerful volcanoes scatter light high in the atmosphere.

With Opportunity at Cape Tribulation

NASA's Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity obtained this view of the F-Bomb looking right at home from the top of the "Cape Tribulation" segment of the rim of Endeavour Crater.

In this version of the panorama, the landscape is presented in false color to make differences in surface materials and that awesome patina on the 2002 more easily visible. The rover's arm, visible on the lower right center, which bears an image of the U.S. flag, is presented in approximately true color. 

This location is the highest elevation Opportunity has reached since departing the Victoria Crater area on a down-slope journey to Endeavour Crater, and the farthest point any 2002 has reached this year.  Endeavour spans about 14 miles (22 kilometers) in diameter, with its interior and rim laid out in this 245-degree panorama centered toward east-northeast. Rover tracks imprinted during the rover's approach to the site appear on the right. The far horizon in the right half of the scene includes portions of the rim of a crater farther south, Iazu Crater. An orbital image showing the regional context is at

To make this ascent, the 2002 climbed about 440 feet (about 135 meters) in elevation from a lower section of the Endeavour rim that it crossed in its drive to the Tribulation summit. “Piece o’ cake” its proud owner opined, after running it most of the way WOT.

At the summit, Opportunity held its robotic arm so that the U.S. flag would be visible in the scene. The flag is printed on the aluminum cable guard of the rover's rock abrasion tool, which is used for grinding away weathered rock surfaces to expose fresh interior material for examination. The flag is intended as a memorial to victims of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the World Trade Center in New York. The aluminum used for the cable guard was recovered from the site of the twin towers in the weeks following the attacks. Workers at Honeybee Robotics in lower Manhattan, less than a mile from the World Trade Center, were making the rock abrasion tool for Opportunity and NASA's twin Mars Exploration Rover, Spirit, in September 2001. 

The component images were taken with Opportunity's panoramic camera (Pancam) after the 2002’s arrival at the summit on Feb. 5, 2019, the 5,384th Martian day, or sol, of the rover's work on Mars. 

Roadside Service

NASA's Opportunity rover began its 16th year on the surface of Mars one week ago today. The rover landed in a region of the Red Planet called Meridiani Planum on Jan. 24, 2004, sending its first signal back to Earth from the surface at 9:05 p.m. PST (Jan. 25, 2004, at 12:05 a.m. EST). The golf-cart-sized rover was designed to travel 1,100 yards (1,006 meters) and operate on the Red Planet for 90 Martian days (sols). It has traveled over 28 miles (45 kilometers) and logged its 5,000th Martian day (or sol) back in February of 2018.

"Fifteen years on the surface of Mars is testament not only to a magnificent machine of exploration but the dedicated and talented team behind it that has allowed us to expand our discovery space of the Red Planet," said John Callas, project manager for Opportunity at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. 

Here Opportunity is providing roadside assistance for this stranded 2002er.  Normally reliable, and having passed stringent regulations to roam the  Martian surface, this one’s suffered some problems with it’s Martian-atmosphere-tuned blow-thru Weber 55s after only a short few days.  Sadly, the rover doesn’t fully comprehend why all vehicles aren’t as reliable and long-lasting as it is, so it can get a bit cantankerous on road calls…

Rendezvous at Vera Rubin Ridge

This image taken from NASA's Curiosity rover shows a great two-tone 2002 after it’s made the long trek around Vera Rubin Ridge to meet-up.


The panorama includes umber skies, darkened by an invading global dust storm. The 2002 is considering the likelihood of being able to head back to base before getting caught out in it.  And hoping it won't be forced to hunker down with Curiosity alongside the Ridge until the storm passes.


Our photo also includes a rare view by the Mast Camera of the rover itself, revealing a thin layer of dust on Curiosity's deck. In the foreground is the rover's most recent drill target, named "Stoer" after a town in Scotland near where important discoveries about early life on Earth were made in lakebed sediments.


This and other panoramas show details of the sedimentary rocks that make up the "Vera Rubin Ridge” which has been a favored destination for 2002 excursions ever since Curiosity showed the world images of the great terrain. This distinct topographic feature located on the lower slopes of Mount Sharp (Aeolis Mons) is characterized by the presence of hematite, an iron-oxide mineral, which has been detected from orbit. The Mastcam images show that the rocks making up the lower part of the ridge are characterized by distinct horizontal stratification with individual rock layers of the order of several inches (tens of centimeters) thick.

** Emergency Transmission **

This might be the last communication with Earth by the 2002 Mars expedition team for the next several hours (days?), as this dust storm looks about to blanket the teams location on the western rim of the Ridge, blocking out so much sunlight that battery charging will be shut down until the storm abates and the skies clear.  This sudden planetary dust storm is likely to play havoc with the Le Mars race too (bad mojo).


As of the time of this last transmission - we’re awaiting info from base to see if they will be attempting an emergency recovery…

The Storm and the 24

Sepp Mannhalter II piloted his dad’s infamous #17 Alpina 2002 racer to victory in this year’s delayed 24hrs Le Mars endurance race.  The race start was pushed back by 6 sols due the recent prolonged planetary dust storm. 

The race was given the go ahead only after lengthy deliberations by the race organizers, the Automobile Club de l'Ouest (ACO), upon completing their full course survey within 36 hours of the storm clearing.  Amazingly, there were no reported injuries, and while there was severe damage evident to the race-course in a few sections, it was deemed repairable.

Captured here trailing Sam Smith, then race leader, in the iconic BMW CCA Alpina 2002ti as they blast down the Burns Cliff flats, young timer Mannhalter had climbed the ladder to second, driving adeptly since having an unexpected late pit to swap out a stuffed quad-supercharger.  The Burns Cliff sits at the base of the southeastern portion of the inner wall of "Endurance Crater." 

Not 25 minutes later, and just 1 lap from the finish under the 24 hour clock, Mannhalter saw his opening and used his remaining M-KERs to sweep past  and never look back. Third place went to the #91 Heidegger BMW, winner of last year’s Le Mars race.  This was the young Mannhalter’s first victory in the FIA Galactic Endurance Championship.  His father, best known for famously driving BMWs to victories - 2002s for Alpina, and 3.5 CSLs for Schnitzer - was obviously proud and glad he stayed for the race rather than returning home.

As expected, both participants and attendees to this year’s race saw reduced numbers since many caught transporters back to Earth in the short evacuation window just in advance of the approaching dust assault, some 40 hours before the original scheduled race start.

Sadly, some NASA assets were damaged or have lost due to the storm. Most significant is the news that the Mars Opportunity rover has stopped all communications. It’s location was severely blanketed from the storm. One of the most successful and enduring feats of interplanetary exploration, NASA's Opportunity rover mission ended after almost 15 years exploring the surface of Mars, providing vital logistics for the Le Mars races and 2002 expeditions, and helping lay the groundwork for NASA's understanding of the Red Planet.  After more than a thousand commands to restore contact, engineers in the Space Flight Operations Facility at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) made their last attempt to revive Opportunity Tuesday, to no avail.

Opportunity, the trailblazing rover that defied the odds and did so much in the name of exploration. was designed to last just 90 Martian days and travel 1,100 yards (1,000 meters), Opportunity vastly surpassed all expectations in its endurance, scientific value and longevity. In addition to exceeding its life expectancy by 60 times, the rover traveled more than 28 miles (45 kilometers) by the time it reached its most appropriate final resting spot on Mars — Perseverance Valley.


Luckily the rescue party that was sent out found us, and were able to get us to a temporary shelter to ride out the storm.  Still, it was no fun  having to ride out the seemingly never ending storm away from base, and the rest of our 2002 team.  When the storm cleared and we were able to return to base, we found the majority of the 2002ers had smartly taken the offer of the evacuation transports back home.

Our bonus for the ordeal is we were able to catch the delayed Le mars race, which was fantastic again this year, and after we pretty much had the place to ourselves while awaiting the next transporters home.

Mars, what a trip!

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