Spirit Doesn't Return NASA's Calls; Rover Might Be Gone for Good

By Andrew Moseman | August 3, 2010 10:12 am

spirit-tracks425It’s hard to say goodbye to old friends. We’ve known since the springtime that NASA’s Spirit rover, which roamed the surface of Mars for more than six years, was probably doomed to a frozen death. But in the last week, NASA has repeatedly called the rover, hoping that the endurance explorer somehow managed to conserve enough power during the martian winter to respond.

So far, no luck. Spirit has not phoned home.

Spirit’s been on Mars since January 2004 and already survived previous winters, which run from May through November. With sunlight reaching Spirit at a weak angle, the rover hibernates and uses the scant solar power to recharge batteries and heat itself to –40 degrees [Scientific American].

But this winter it could not. With a wheel caught in the loose martian terrain, Spirit could not drive to an opportune position to capture some sunlight. As a result, the rover probably dropped to -67 degrees during the brutal winter on the red planet, too cold for its heaters or machinery to function.

This looks like the end of the line. In January, after months of fruitless attempts to extricate Spirit from its quagmire, NASA scientists conceded that the rover would rove no more. Now, NASA says, it would be a shock if Spirit manages to wake up and answer hails from Earth. Its creators will keep trying.

“This has been a long winter for Spirit and a long wait for us,” said Steve Squyres, the Cornell astronomer and chief scientist for both rovers. “Even if we never heard from Spirit again, I think her scientific legacy would be secure” [San Francisco Chronicle].

That’s putting it humbly on Squyres’ part. Spirit turned an expected Mars mission lifetime of 90 days into six years, a 24-fold improvement. Spirit provided invaluable evidence supporting the case that our planetary neighbor was once hospitable for life, and snapped more than 100,000 pictures. You can see some of its best in our photo gallery.

And Spirit’s twin rover, Opportunity, still survives.

Related Content:
DISCOVER: Those Mars Rovers Keep on Going and Going…
80beats: Photo Gallery: The Best Views from Spirit’s 6 Years of Mars Roving
80beats: Dis-Spirit-ed: NASA Concedes Defeat Over Stuck Mars Rover
80beats: Mars Rover Sets Endurance Record: Photos from Opportunity’s 6 Years On-Planet
80beats: It’s Alive! NASA Test-Drives Its New Hulking Mars Rover, Curiosity

Image: NASA/JPL

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Space
  • http://Untitledvanityproject.blogspot.com Rhacodactylus

    NOOOOOO!!! (pounds fist on ground) WHYYYYYY? THEY WERE SOOO YOUNG. . .

  • Arancaytar

    Rest in peace, little robot. :(

  • Chris

    Rest in peace Spirit.
    http://xkcd.com/695/

  • http://home.gate.net/~reberly0/index.htm Carl Eberly

    Spirit is now just a “spirit,” a ghostly memory of a child-like science toy merrily frolicking across Martian sands. It seems such a lonely thought, this familiar machine now motionless, a dead thing that once sprang to life for us.

    An old friend has forever gone silent.

  • Argo

    Hopefully someday our descendents will be able to visit and commemorate its final resting place.

  • Chris the Canadian

    Ummmmm, folks it’s not alive. Never was. It’s a machine. Sad to see it has finally stopped working but … a memorial service? Rest in Peace? “A dead thing that once sprang to life for us”?

    It NEVER WAS ALIVE!!! Humans are funny. We put human features and emotions on things that do not feel or live. Like when you have to get rid of your first car.

  • Jason

    @ Chris the Canadian:

    Wow, you must be a real hit at parties.

    RIP Spirit, you done good. :)

  • Tatterdemalian

    It’s funny when people anthropomorhize inanimate objects. Not so funny when they anthropomorphize animals, but what can you do? People love wild animals more than they love their own children these days, and no degree of education can change it. Last one out of the Age of Reason, be sure to turn out the lights…

  • E. Taoinsh “R. D.” Lu

    Do not go gentle into that good night,
    Old age should burn and rage at close of day;
    Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

  • http://clubneko.net nick

    Too bad none of the mars sats had a laser they could shoot at the solar panels to bump some juice into those batteries, but even if they had it probably wouldn’t have been powerful enough to do much of anything at all.

    Hopefully they’ll put an arm with an air compressor on the new one, so it can blow dust off the wheels for a better grip or somethin :)

  • ChH

    May through November???

  • Roy V

    Don’t worry guys, it’ll be back :)

  • http://www.landofthedeadmatchmaking.com/ Blade

    What about it’s sister? Unlikely that it’ll just wake up, it’s electronics might well not survive the extremes it is subjected to in a total power loss state. And will it even auto-reboot if power were restored, and there were enough electronics left to function?

  • Jeremy Brett

    I congratulate it on a job well done :) A nice example of what humans can do when they aren’t trying to kill each other. Wish there was more like this. Great job Spirit! It will be neat to see it one day in a Martian National Park ;)

  • Chris F.

    @ Chris the Canadian

    Memorials are not about the dead, but a comfort for those that still live. We’ve tracked the ups and downs of this little rover for 6 long years. They did things they were never designed to do, and gave us so much information, its sad to know that this chapter in exploration has come to an end.

    Spirit was a symbol, every bit as much as the Statue of Liberty is a symbol. Yes, it was a cold, dead piece of metal and wires, but the symbol of endurance and perseverance it became was as alive as you are to me (and you’re just little electronic pixels on the screen).

    Rest now, little rover.

NEW ON DISCOVER
OPEN
CITIZEN SCIENCE
ADVERTISEMENT

Discover's Newsletter

Sign up to get the latest science news delivered weekly right to your inbox!

80beats

80beats is DISCOVER's news aggregator, weaving together the choicest tidbits from the best articles covering the day's most compelling topics.
ADVERTISEMENT

See More

ADVERTISEMENT
Collapse bottom bar
+

Login to your Account

X
E-mail address:
Password:
Remember me
Forgot your password?
No problem. Click here to have it e-mailed to you.

Not Registered Yet?

Register now for FREE. Registration only takes a few minutes to complete. Register now »