Mars Rover Will Try Daring Escape From Sand Trap of Doom

By Eliza Strickland | November 12, 2009 6:27 pm

free-spiritIt’s a terrible thing to have a spirit that is trapped, bogged down, unable to reach its true potential. Just ask NASA–the space agency knows all about it. The Mars rover Spirit has been stuck in the sand since April 23rd, when it drove backwards into a pit of soft sand and came to a dead halt. Since then, NASA engineers have been testing out escape strategies with a mock-up rover and a sandbox in California, and today they announced that they’re ready to begin a careful operation that they hope will extricate the rover. The name of the project: Free Spirit.

Spirit and its partner rover have been exploring Mars for more than five years now, but this sandy area, dubbed Troy, could be the end of the road for Spirit. “If it cannot make the great escape from this sand trap, it’s likely that this lonely spot straddling the edge of this crater might be where Spirit ends its adventures on Mars,” said Doug McCuistion, who heads the Mars exploration program [AP].

On Monday, Spirit’s handlers will send the first commands to the rover. Over days, weeks, and months they’ll order it to slowly rotate its five working wheels and inch back along the path it came in on. Efforts to extract Spirit will continue until at least February. If the rover is not free by then, a review panel may decide whether it’s worth it to keep on trying, McCuistion said [AP]. But even if Spirit is stuck for all time, it may still be able to contribute to our scientific understanding of the Red Planet by studying its soil and atmosphere.

Related Content:
80beats: With a Sandbox and a Rover Replica, Working to Free the Stuck Mars Rover
80beats: Will This Mars Rover Ever Rove Again? Spirit Gets Stuck in the Sand
80beats: Mars Rover Spirit Shows Signs of Age, Including Senior Moments
80beats: The Little Rovers That Could Mark Their Fifth Anniversary on Mars

Image: JPL / NASA

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Space, Technology
MORE ABOUT: Mars, Mars rovers, NASA, robots
  • photon

    We should be using hi-tech blimps to explore the surface of mars. You can cover more area. It could have an anchor system to hold it in place in winds or just drift when need be. A system of robots that could be dropped off and hoisted up back aboard with special cameras etc.

  • bigjohn756

    Oh, Lord God Almighty, I am dedicating my daily prayers to Spirit’s recovery.

    Or, maybe not, but, I sure do hope that the crew comes up with some really clever maneuver that will work and free poor, old, Spirit. So far, they have been doing great. Spirit has been dragging its gimpy ‘leg’ around and finding all kinds of good stuff for a long time. Keep it up boys and girls!

  • MartyM

    Hopefully soon the temperature and weather will cooperate and allow the sand to harden so spirit can get some traction.

  • Glenn

    “decide whether it’s worth it to keep on trying” <– That can't be right.
    Is their money and time that scarce?

  • Roadtripper

    This is why you need a human-crewed mission to Mars. These rovers are great, but a human can do much more, without getting stuck in the sand, or taking an hour to get down the ramp when they land.


  • Zachary

    They can also be there for five years…wait…

  • Brian

    Get Ken Mattingly on the phone!

  • Kin

    Photon my first belief is that that design would have serious issues with temperature changes, as gas will expand/contract. (my first idea, there might be other issues, or it might be a great idea).

    The other massive issue is winds. And how delicate the whole system in general would be..

  • scribbler

    The atmosphere on Mars is so thin that the “wind” wouldn’t be much of a problem. It is still enough to allow a blimp type craft to drift about. It isn’t a bad idea, really, especially if the lift was achieved by heating gas. The energy to heat the gas would be easily available from solar panels and there would prolly even be enough left over to propel the craft against the thin Martian wind.

    Personally, I think a blimp style craft would be a great idea with many otherwise unavailable options…

    The biggest problem would be lift, seeing that the Martian atmosphere is so terribly thin. It would make the balloon portion extremely large. Still, it should be doable.

  • Justin

    @#5 – 1 word, sir: Radiation. Until we can figure out a way to feasibly deal with that problem, humans will not get very far beyond our planet.

  • Darren Garrison

    There is a leaked schedule for the moves that they plan to attempt to dislodge the rover. Seems that first they are going to put the right wheel in, then they are going to put the right wheel out. Then they are going to put the right wheel in and shake it all about.

  • Ron Bennett

    Here is a time lapse movie I made from the JPL raw images of how it got stuck:

    Here is a newer one on how it got stuck in the sand trap that shows the robotic instrument arm moving around after it got stuck.

  • carmen

    tell the l.g.m. to get out and push.


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