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  • Dick writes about Earth and planetary science for Science magazine.
 

Mars Spirit Rover, 2004-2011

25 May 2011 9:40 am
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NASA has ended efforts to re-establish contact with its Spirit rover. Nothing had been heard from it since 22 March 2010, when the feisty rover beamed a last transmission while mired in a quicksandlike dry powder. A savagely cold martian winter was coming on even as the solar power available to warm the vehicle's innards waned with the sun's high point sinking lower and lower in the sky. Now that summer has returned and still nothing has been heard from Spirit despite the sun being high in the sky, NASA last night issued a press release officially announcing the end of its rescue efforts.

Spirit landed in the martian crater Gusev on 3 January 2004. Mission scientists intended to explore the dry lakebed there during the rover's "nominal" 3-month-long mission, the interval engineers guaranteed by building plenty of mechanical robustness into the rover. Spirit would need all the overdesigning they gave it. Gusev's "lakebed" turned out to be a lava field that had never seen the water the rover had been sent to investigate. But the vehicle rolled on, despite wear and tear and inevitable aging problems, to climb the nearby Columbia Hills, where it did find ancient water-altered rock. It then descended the hills to discover the remains of volcanic hot springs, only to fall into an unseen trap of hot-spring minerals.

Spirit presumably died during the past martian winter as the cold damaged critical components and broke electrical connections. Its official lifetime: 2625 martian days. Odometer reading: 7730.50 meters. Spirit is survived by its sister rover, Opportunity, which is in its 30th kilometer and nearing Endeavour crater.

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