January 3, 2014
NASA Marks 10-Year Anniversary Of Spirit Landing
[ Watch the Video: Spirit Rover Landing 10th Anniversary ]
Lee Rannals for redOrbit.com - Your Universe OnlineSaturday will mark the 10th anniversary of the date NASA’s Mars Exploration Rover Spirit touched down on the Martian surface. On January 4, 2004 Spirit finally reached the Red Planet after a seven-month-long trip through space. The rover was a twin to the still operational Opportunity rover, which landed just a few weeks after Spirit.
Spirit was a six-wheeled, solar-powered rover weighing 400 pounds with a height of 5.2-feet. The primary surface mission for Spirit was planned to last at least 90 Martian days, or sols, but the mission received several extensions and lasted about 2,208 sols.
The rover became the second longest operation on the surface of Mars on August 11, 2007, behind the Viking 1 lander, which lasted for 2,245 sols. Opportunity eventually took over the streak as the longest running rover after Spirit’s mission came to an end.
NASA landed Spirit in the crater Gusev, a site that appears to have been affected by liquid water in the past. After landing, the rover took panoramic images of its site, giving scientists information needed to select geological targets to drive to. At the time, Spirit was taking the highest resolution images ever taken on the surface of another planet.
Spirit drove 4.8 miles during its mission, which was more than 12 times what NASA had planned to do with the rover. The rover drove across a plain to reach a distant range of hills that appeared as bumps on the horizon from the landing site. Spirit became the first robot to summit a hill on another planet, covering more than half a mile.
"What's really important is not only how long Spirit worked or how far Spirit drove, but also how much exploration and scientific discovery Spirit accomplished," Mars Exploration Rover Project Manager John Callas of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory Pasadena, California, said in a statement in 2011.
The rover’s right-front wheel became immobile in 2006, which actually led to what NASA said was one of the most important findings by a rover. NASA said that dragging the inoperable right-front wheel helped plow up a bright-white soil, which Spirit’s Alpha Particle X-ray Spectrometer and Miniature Thermal Emission Spectrometer revealed was nearly pure silica.
"Spirit's unexpected discovery of concentrated silica deposits was one of the most important findings by either rover," Steve Squyres of Cornell University, Ithaca, NY, principal investigator for Spirit and Opportunity, said in a statement in 2011. "It showed that there were once hot springs or steam vents at the Spirit site, which could have provided favorable conditions for microbial life."
Spirit became stuck in soft soil on May 1, 2009, unable to move. NASA tried for several months to try and free the rover from the sand trap before losing communication with Spirit on January 26, 2010. The last communication NASA ever received from Spirit was on March 22, 2010. NASA decided to call the mission on May 25, 2011 after a year of attempts to try and reestablish the line of communication.
"Our job was to wear these rovers out exploring, to leave no unutilized capability on the surface of Mars, and for Spirit, we have done that," Callas said at the time of NASA’s decision to end the mission.