KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, FLA. - Leaving smoke and steam behind, the Delta II rocket with its Mars Exploration Rover (MER-A) payload lifts off the pad on time at 1:58 p.m. EDT from Launch Complex 17-A, Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. MER-A, known as "Spirit," is the first of two rovers being launched to Mars. When the two rovers arrive at the red planet in 2004, they will bounce to airbag-cushioned landings at sites offering a balance of favorable conditions for safe landings and interesting science. The rovers see sharper images, can explore farther and examine rocks better than anything that has ever landed on Mars. The designated site for the MER-A mission is Gusev Crater, which appears to have been a crater lake. The second rover, MER-B, is scheduled to launch June 25.
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