NASA's Mars rover Opportunity spied hints Friday of hematite, a mineral that typically forms in water _ a finding that could mean the dry and dusty Red Planet was once wetter and more hospitable to life.
That is the very question Opportunity and its twin, Spirit, were sent to answer.
The preliminary discovery came hours before Opportunity was to roll its six wheels onto the martian surface for the first time. Engineers planned to command the rover to roll the 10 feet off its lander and onto Mars at 3:12 a.m. this morning. Confirmation was expected three hours later.
NASA said the $820-million double-barreled mission should begin in earnest by Sunday, once Opportunity is on the ground and Spirit, on the other side of the planet, is cured of the software problems that have crippled it for more than a week. NASA deleted 1,700 files from its flash memory Friday and then rebooted it.