CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) -- A rocket holding the first of two Mars rovers blasted off Tuesday on a seven-month voyage to the red planet where the golf-car-sized vehicles will search for evidence that there was once enough water to support life on Mars.
The Brazil Times Managing Editor Frank Phillips and his wife Linda, who are vacationing in Florida, were present to watch the blast off.
The rover named Spirit lifted off from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station aboard a Boeing Delta II rocket at 1:58 p.m.
"The color of the flames was copper, like a brand new penny" Frank said by phone to The Times less than two hours after the lift off. "I'd never noticed that before. As the space shuttle left the gantry at 100 miles per hour, it seemed to make a slow arc across the sky as it went up.
"We were at an observation deck at least a mile from the launch site," Frank continued. "It took a full minute before sound reached us. It sounded like a jet plane.
"As a matter of fact, we're staying at a Daytona Beach hotel near the Daytona International Airport. The planes flying over our hotel are much louder than the rocket was today.
"Even though the government has a no-fly zone over the Kennedy Space Center, Linda and I kept hearing a plane overhead," Frank said. "We asked our tour guide about it and were told that it was a security plane.
"We noticed that people from all over the world were crowded on that observation deck to see the American space shuttle take off."
Thunderstorms had delayed the launch by two days, and launch officials contended with a last-minute communications glitch between stations that will track the spacecraft.
The second rover, named Opportunity, will be launched later this month, and both are expected to arrive at Mars in January.
Moving on six wheels, the $800 million rovers act as robotic geologists. Each is equipped with a panoramic camera, a camera for close-up views of rocks and a drill to cut into rocks. The data will be transmitted back to Earth.
Previous missions have shown Mars had water in the past, but scientists want to find out how long the water was there and in what quantities. Scientists believe the water may show that Mars once was able to support life.
Brazil Times Managing Editor Frank Phillips contributed to this article.