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NASA: Mars Rover Will Likely Rove No More

The Mars Rover team most recently tried driving Spirit backward. i

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

toggle caption NASA/JPL-Caltech
The Mars Rover team most recently tried driving Spirit backward.

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.

  • NASA's Spirit rover found an angular piece of volcanic lava that proves to be a great choice for a photographic study of Martian light and shadow.
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    NASA's Spirit rover found an angular piece of volcanic lava that proves to be a great choice for a photographic study of Martian light and shadow.
    Photos courtesy of NASA/JPL/Cornell University
  • The shadow of the camera mast against a background of sand, rocks and a small dust-filled impact crater makes for a nice self-portrait of the Spirit rover.
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    The shadow of the camera mast against a background of sand, rocks and a small dust-filled impact crater makes for a nice self-portrait of the Spirit rover.
  • While driving over the reddish rocks and soils of Mars, the rover's wheels dig below the thin dusty layer and reveal the darker, brownish soils below. The circular tracks are "pirouettes" that the rovers occasionally do to align their radio antennas for best possible communications.
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    While driving over the reddish rocks and soils of Mars, the rover's wheels dig below the thin dusty layer and reveal the darker, brownish soils below. The circular tracks are "pirouettes" that the rovers occasionally do to align their radio antennas for best possible communications.
  • Spirit rover watches a Martian sunset. The daytime sky is reddish-brown because it holds so much suspended dust. The same dust turns the sky bluish at sunset.
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    Spirit rover watches a Martian sunset. The daytime sky is reddish-brown because it holds so much suspended dust. The same dust turns the sky bluish at sunset.
  • A view from high in Mars' Columbia Hills, looking over Spirit's right solar panel "wing" and down into the Tennessee Valley. Just like on Earth, hills and ridges on Mars are windy places. The wind creates sand dunes and scours rocks, and it sometimes even cleans the dust off the rover's solar panels — increasing the electrical power and longevity of the mission.
    Hide caption
    A view from high in Mars' Columbia Hills, looking over Spirit's right solar panel "wing" and down into the Tennessee Valley. Just like on Earth, hills and ridges on Mars are windy places. The wind creates sand dunes and scours rocks, and it sometimes even cleans the dust off the rover's solar panels — increasing the electrical power and longevity of the mission.
  • Among the most surprising discoveries from the Opportunity rover were these small, spherical, ball-bearing-sized grains of rock that litter the ground by the millions. These are iron-rich mineral grains most likely precipitated out of ancient near-surface water on Mars. The Rover Science team dubbed these little grains "blueberries."
    Hide caption
    Among the most surprising discoveries from the Opportunity rover were these small, spherical, ball-bearing-sized grains of rock that litter the ground by the millions. These are iron-rich mineral grains most likely precipitated out of ancient near-surface water on Mars. The Rover Science team dubbed these little grains "blueberries."
  • Once in a while the rovers are commanded to dig a trench with their wheels, so scientists can study the shallow subsurface. This trench, about 3 inches deep, was dug out right next to the rover's landing platform. The rover's robotic arm is extended, readying its instruments to make chemical measurements inside the trench.
    Hide caption
    Once in a while the rovers are commanded to dig a trench with their wheels, so scientists can study the shallow subsurface. This trench, about 3 inches deep, was dug out right next to the rover's landing platform. The rover's robotic arm is extended, readying its instruments to make chemical measurements inside the trench.
  • The setting sun casts a long rover shadow as Opportunity prepares to drive down into Endurance crater, a stadium-sized hole in the ground filled with sand dunes and layered rocks.
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    The setting sun casts a long rover shadow as Opportunity prepares to drive down into Endurance crater, a stadium-sized hole in the ground filled with sand dunes and layered rocks.
  • This "false color" view of sand dunes at the bottom of Endurance crater is scientifically useful for distinguishing among iron-bearing minerals within the sand. The rover cameras can see farther into the ultraviolet and infrared than human eyes can. Scientists use that capability to create false color images of Martian terrain.
    Hide caption
    This "false color" view of sand dunes at the bottom of Endurance crater is scientifically useful for distinguishing among iron-bearing minerals within the sand. The rover cameras can see farther into the ultraviolet and infrared than human eyes can. Scientists use that capability to create false color images of Martian terrain.
  • Meridiani Planum, home to the Opportunity rover, is a vast plain dominated by 8- to 12-inch sandy dunes and ripples that go on and on for as far as the rover's "eyes" can see.
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    Meridiani Planum, home to the Opportunity rover, is a vast plain dominated by 8- to 12-inch sandy dunes and ripples that go on and on for as far as the rover's "eyes" can see.
  • Opportunity's "footprint" in the crusty, "blueberry"-covered sands of Meridiani Planum, Mars, on mission Day 605.
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    Opportunity's "footprint" in the crusty, "blueberry"-covered sands of Meridiani Planum, Mars, on mission Day 605.
  • The Spirit rover's right front wheel motor died about two years into the mission. However, the bad luck of decreased mobility ended up turning into good fortune, because the stuck wheel created a 6-inch-wide trench that dug up bright, salty, hydrated soils that would not have been discovered otherwise. These water-bearing deposits reveal that this part of Mars was very likely more Earth-like at...
    Hide caption
    The Spirit rover's right front wheel motor died about two years into the mission. However, the bad luck of decreased mobility ended up turning into good fortune, because the stuck wheel created a 6-inch-wide trench that dug up bright, salty, hydrated soils that would not have been discovered otherwise. These water-bearing deposits reveal that this part of Mars was very likely more Earth-like at one time.

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