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Flaky rock called "Mimi"
The flaky rock at the center of this image taken by Spirit is known as Mimi. Scientists say one possibility is that it was once a dune that was cemented into flaky layers, a process that sometimes involves the action of water.

NASA upgraded the bandwidth connection to its pokey twin Mars rovers, a boost that will allow scientists to send and receive data like pictures more quickly, a mission manager said Friday.

The rate is now nearly five times the speed of home dial-up Internet connections.

Engineers on the $820 million mission increased the Spirit rover’s maximum data rate to 256,000 bits per second, using NASA’s 2001 Mars Odyssey orbiter as a martian relay satellite.

The rate is twice the highest data rate previously used, mission manager Matt Wallace said. NASA expects to regularly use the Odyssey link at that rate with both Spirit and its twin, Opportunity.

Halfway around Mars, Opportunity did not start a planned 30-foot drive on Friday because it failed to properly stow its robotic arm, Jet Propulsion Laboratory spokesman Guy Webster said. That delayed the drive to Saturday.

Opportunity did complete a preliminary survey of a rock outcrop. NASA planned for it next to roll over to a patch of soil believed rich in the iron-bearing mineral hematite, which typically forms in water.

Scientists want Opportunity to dig about four inches into the soil, using one of its front wheels to excavate a narrow trench. They hope Opportunity will find minerals that could reveal whether the planet ever was wet enough to support life, a key goal of the double mission.

NASA planned for Spirit to spend much of the weekend inspecting two rocks and the surrounding soil, and then resume rolling toward a crater about 1,100 feet away.

© 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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