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NASA: Mars Rover Will Likely Rove No More

The Mars Rover team most recently tried driving Spirit backward in an effort to extricate the vehicle, seen here from the rover's point of view on Jan. 23. The effort resulted in a few inches of movement and lifted the rover slightly. NASA/JPL-Caltech hide caption

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NASA/JPL-Caltech

The Mars Rover team most recently tried driving Spirit backward in an effort to extricate the vehicle, seen here from the rover's point of view on Jan. 23. The effort resulted in a few inches of movement and lifted the rover slightly.

NASA/JPL-Caltech

NASA is abandoning for now plans to try to extricate the Mars Exploration Rover named Spirit from a sand trap it has been stuck in since April 2009.

The decision has been forced on mission managers by the Martian weather; it will soon be winter in the area where Spirit is stuck.

Just like on Earth, during the Martian winter, the sun is lower in the sky. That means less sunlight will reach the Spirit's solar panels, and that means less power to operate the rover.

Another complication in extracting the rover is that only four of its six motorized wheels are working.

Rover drivers are now trying to change the tilt of the rover so its solar panels point more toward the sun, but they expect that in a few weeks, the rover will shut itself down and fall into hibernation mode, from which it likely won't emerge for six months or so.

Even if it wakes up at the end of winter, its roving days are probably over. Mission managers are not at all optimistic they'll ever extricate the rover from its sand trap, and researchers are already making plans to use Spirit as a stationary science platform.

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