updated 1/4/2004 10:24:25 PM ET 2004-01-05T03:24:25

A six-wheeled rover appeared on track Sunday to become the biggest Web draw in NASA history, just hours after it safely landed on Mars.

Traffic on Web sites operated by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration climbed steadily Sunday, as computer users around the world logged on to see the first images of Mars taken by the Spirit rover.

NASA recorded 109 million hits on its home page and related Web sites during the 24-hour period coinciding with the late Saturday landing of Spirit on Mars. Nearly 17 hours after the successful landing, that figure had more than doubled, said Brian Dunbar, NASA’s Internet services manager.

“As we put out more pictures, we’ll continue to see that,” Dunbar said of the steady growth in traffic. To support the onslaught, NASA is relying on 1,300 servers around the world to host Web pages containing details of the Spirit mission.

The loss of the space shuttle Columbia and its crew nearly a year ago and the landing of the Pathfinder spacecraft on Mars in 1997 each drew about 750 million hits. By midday Sunday, less than a day into a mission expected to last 90 days, Spirit-related Web sites were already at roughly one-third that tally.

NASA recorded 47 million hits during the busiest 24-hour period of the Pathfinder mission, which sent the tiny Sojourner rover scurrying across the surface of Mars. At the time, it was among the busiest Web events ever on the then-nascent medium.

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