Monday, December 14, 2009

NASA Mars Rover Could Face Winter Stuck in Sand

Via -

NASA’s Mars rover Spirit now apparently has two broken power wheels and the space agency’s scientists face the unenviable task of trying to get the stuck spacecraft out of the mud before Martian winter freezes sets in.

In the latest round of bad news, NASA said the results of diagnostic tests on Spirit's right-rear wheel on Dec. 8, 2009 continue to show problems that at this point leave the rover with only four operable wheels. Spirit has six wheels but one of them, the right front wheel, has been inoperable since 2006. The right-rear wheel stalled Nov. 28 while NASA was attempting to extricate the rover.

Spirit has been stuck in a place NASA calls "Troy" since April 23 when the rover's wheels broke through a crust on the surface that was covering brightly-toned, slippery sand underneath. After a few drive attempts to get Spirit out in the subsequent days, it began sinking deeper in the sand trap. Driving was suspended to allow time for tests and reviews of possible escape strategies, NASA stated.

Being stuck in the sand hasn’t stopped Spirit from working but that could change should it be stuck in place as winter approaches. Because of the current rover tilt, the environmental conditions and dust accumulation on the solar arrays, Spirit is at risk of inadequate power for surviving through the next southern Mars winter, which reaches solstice on May, NASA stated. Even if extrication is not possible, some limited rover motion may be able to improve rover tilt and increase the chance of winter survival.


In the meantime, NASA said the rover has been mapping its Martian surroundings with tools on its robotic arm and its camera mast. The rover's work at Troy has augmented earlier discoveries it made indicating ancient Mars had hot springs or steam vents, possible habitats for life. If escape attempts fail, the rover's stationary location has resulted in new science findings, NASA stated.


While there have been those occasional glitches, Spirit and its twin rover Opportunity have been wildly successful. Since landing on the red planet in January 2004 they have explored Mars for five years, far surpassing their original 90-day mission, NASA said.

No comments:

Post a Comment