Dis-Spirit-ed: NASA Concedes Defeat Over Stuck Mars Rover

By Smriti Rao | January 26, 2010 3:45 pm

spiritAfter ten months of trying to extricate the Mars rover Spirit from a sandy patch on the Red Planet, NASA has finally given up. The space agency said Tuesday that Spirit will no longer be a fully mobile robot, roving over an alien planet. It will instead be a stationary science platform–which means a sedentary life for the robot geologist [that] has taken thousands of images and found evidence in Mars’ rocks of a wetter, warmer past [BBC].

Ten months ago, as Spirit was driving south beside the western edge of a low plateau called Home Plate, its wheels broke through a crusty surface and churned into soft sand hidden underneath [NASA]. The rover has been stuck there ever since, and now only four of its six wheels are functioning. Since all the maneuvers that the NASA instructed the rover to try have failed to free it, the sandpit known as “Troy” will be Spirit’s final resting place.

Spirit may stop roving, but hopefully it won’t stop working. In the coming weeks, NASA will focus on tilting the rover to the north so that more sunlight will fall on its solar panels during the long, cold Martian winter. Even if the rover does settle into a better position, it is likely Spirit will maintain so little energy in its batteries that it will go into hibernation, perhaps as soon as April. It will not emerge from that state until August or September, when the Sun gets high enough in the Martian sky to power up the rover’s systems [BBC News].

If Spirit does make it through the winter (when temperatures are expected to reach -55 degrees Fahrenheit), it can resume studying the tiny wobbles in the rotation of Mars to gain insight about the planet’s core. This requires months of radio-tracking the motion of a point on the surface of Mars to calculate long-term motion with an accuracy of a few inches [NASA]. This would help determine if the core of Mars is liquid or solid. Tools on Spirit’s robotic arm are also expected to study variations in the composition of nearby soil and see how they’re affected by water. Stationary science also includes watching how wind moves soil particles and monitoring the Martian atmosphere [NASA].

Since landing on Mars in 2004, Spirit has trekked nearly five miles and climbed a mountain as tall as the Statue of Liberty. Its twin, Opportunity, continues to drive and explore [Associated Press]. So far, NASA has spent more than $900 million on its Mars exploration rover program and the data acquired by the vehicles has generated about 100 scholarly papers, including special editions of the leading international journals Science and Nature.

Related Content:
80beats: Spirit Rover’s 6th Anniversary on Mars is likely To Be Its Last
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80beats: Mars Rover Will Try Daring Escape From Sand Trap of Doom
80beats: Will This Mars Rover Ever Rove Again? Spirit Get Stuck in the Sand
80beats: Mars Rover Spirit Shows Signs of Age, Including Senior Moments
DISCOVER: Mars Rover Delves Into Crater
DISCOVER: Those Mars Rovers Keep Going and Going…

Image: NASA/ JPL-Caltech

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Space, Technology
  • http://clubneko.net Nick

    Feh! Never concede defeat! If one robot breaks down… send another to fix it!

    I mean, I realize how unrealistic that is, but imagine how bad-a$$ NASA would look if they could pull that off.

    Or at the very least, put it up on blocks and stick a couch next to it and do a “You might be a redneck if…”

    As a precautionary future measure, they should build the rovers so if the wheel don’t move, they can lift their legs a bit and “walk” out of sticky situations. Or put an arm on the bottom to help propel it or somethin.

  • http://shineinnovations.com Ron Bennett

    After following the MER rovers, Opportunity and Spirit, for over six years and making over 4,000 color images from the raw images beamed down to NASA JPL, see some of them here:


    Today’s announcement was a strange turn of events I was just talking about how well they done over the last several Sol’s. It is kind of sad seeing Spirit in the condition it is in however within the last 3 sols, 3 Martian days, I thought they made real progress. For 8 months Spirit didn’t move an inch and for the last several sol’s Spirit moved quit a bit.

    Look at the progress they made In this time lapse movie here:


  • Dave

    That’s hilarious, Troy. I kind of feel bad for the bugger though. It’s like having the hero who’s survived so much, only to get killed by some insignificant thing. Maybe Nick’s right though, maybe we should just send another robot. Call it the Trojan Horse.

  • Mikey G

    The Next Rover should have a winch enabled with some sort of grappling hook connected to it. That way, they can rotate it around like a turret of a cannon, and fire it off in the distance and try to pull itself out that way. Just like we have on our Jeeps and 4 wheelers. I bet it would work.

  • William J Cocchi

    Our generation got there its interesting study for FUTURE rescue teams it will keep there minds clean with good intentions . To study ways to be helpful. I am keep my mind occupyed with DRAFTING plans to Build Portable Homes deleverable by Heliocopter there called “PORT o PODs” and can deliver FRESH WATER to the International Space Station so CREWS do not have to Drink Distilled “URINE” and When the PODs are Emptyed they can be “CUSTOMIZED into LIVING QUARTERS thats the FAR OUT plan the SIMPLAFIED plan is just to build my own EARTY Lining Qoarters to share with somebody (FEMALE) who we can relate to each other very Tough to do Like figurering how to get ROVER BACK TO EARTH one thought its a VETERIAN thats needs help


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