Martian Sand Trap

By Phil Plait | May 3, 2005 9:15 am

The little rover that could (well, half of the team of little rovers that could) has found itself stuck, sortof, in the sand.

Opportunity, one of two rovers (the other is Spirit) that landed on Mars over a year ago, has been, well, roving over the surface and taking very cool images (like ones of wee craters). And while the managers are not saying it’s trapped, they are having some difficulty with it being mired in sand near a martian dune.

The image above links to a much larger (1024 x 1024) image showing one of Oppy’s six wheels, and it appears to be about half-buried in sand. Managers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab are not saying it’s stuck, since they having tried to get it out yet. They are working on rover mockups here on Earth to figure out the best way to get it unmired. The last thing they want to do is make things worse because they didn’t test out the situation first! 200 million kilometers is a long way to make a house call.

For more pix of where it sits, try here, especially the navigation camera images. Very cool stuff.


Comments (7)

  1. monolithfoo

    If it is stuck… I’ll be sad. That thing and that team of Scientists has given us more than I could have ever hopped for. It’s to the point were the weirdness will be that we DON’T have two roving robots on another planet doing prospecting and field research.

    I’m almost to the point that I wouldn’t be suprised to see the Rover team go crossplanet with the other robot to rescue the first. Having it dive into the sand with vine in teeth, black cape, mask and all.

  2. Michelle Rochon

    Oh boy, if I were them, I’d make sure to mark that spot and make sure to not return there in case of.

  3. The Black Cat

    Honestly, these rovers were supposed to have died many months ago. I am just really impressed and happy they have lasted as long as they did. Considering the bad luck we have had with Mars missions in the past, the fact that the rovers are still going after all this time is really impressive. And the rovers have not been without their hitches, but thanks to the engineers and technicians who built them and care and ingenuity of the operators controlling them the rovers have pulled through every time. I wouldn’t be surprised if it pulls through this time as well, but if not I will just remember how long ago they were supposed to have died.

    It all reminds me of the Mythical Creatures section of an old almanac I own. One of the entries is:
    Galactic ghoul: A force in space some 35 million miles from Earth on the way to Mars. It supposedly causes electrical and mechanical problems with spacecraft in the area.

    It explains a lot of the trouble we are having.

  4. Michael Baker

    I took a peek at the front hazcam SOL 453 and it looks like they drove into some soft stuff. It appears that ALL 6 wheels may be buried, and the wheels on one side are turned in relation to the other side.

    They need to call Bubba, the redneck astronaut to pull’em outta there! He could bring his 4 x 4 and tow rope and just give Opportunity a nice big yank. Bubba lives for that kinda stuff. :)

  5. Gryfin210

    Here’s a very interesting view of the problem:

    The first images show the wheels sitting very high on the soil, but just a few images later, we see the right wheel 50%, then 75% buried. Also, one of the wheels appears to have a broken actuator, since by the last couple pictures show that one is turned and the other is facing nearly strait.

    One interesting idea is that they could use the Manipulator Arm to either try to pull the “Oppy” out, or to pack the soil down infront of the wheels so that driving out will be less of a problem.

    And even if they can’t get Oppy out of the mud, not all will be lost. Opportunity will continue to send back data from it’s fixed position for a while, which will give the JPL team time to do a more detailed study than has been dome of any one particular spot on Mars this Mission.

  6. Nigel Depledge

    They’ve got it out!
    As of 17 May 05, Opportunity has moved 4.5 cm! Controllers say they are optimistic about getting the rover out of the soft patch. Of course, it is possible that it might get stuck again – we’ll have to keep our fingers crossed. Or something…


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