Sunday, February 07, 2010

The Spirit of Geek

A bit of sad news for space geeks: Just about a month ago I posted on the difficulty faced by the Mars rover Spirit, which had gotten stuck in soft sand after one of its wheels broke through a crust. Months of effort had failed to dislodge it.

A little over a week ago, NASA announced that it was giving up on freeing the rover. Spirit will rove no more.

But that may not be the end of it: Agency scientists are working on ways to move the rover just in a way to tilt its solar panels toward the Martian sun, now getting lower in the sky as the Martian winter approaches. Even just a few degrees in the right direction would enable Spirit to survive the winter and communicate with Earth every few days.

If they succeed, and they seem reasonably confident they will, Spirit would become a stationary science platform that could carry out studies it couldn't do without being fixed on one place. As such, its mission, originally scheduled for 90 days but now over six years long, could continue for months or even years longer.
"Spirit is not dead; it has just entered another phase of its long life," said Doug McCuistion, director of the Mars Exploration Program at NASA Headquarters in Washington.
The rover is dead, long live the rover I mean the stationary platform!

Footnote: Spirit's twin rover Opportunity keeps on keepin' on.

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