July 7, 2009

NASA works on Spirit’s extraction

The U.S. space agency says it's using a test rover placed in a sandbox to simulate how best to get the rover, Spirit, extracted from loose Martian soil.

Engineers at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory said they are using a special soil that simulates Spirit's predicament on Mars to assess possible maneuvers for getting Spirit onto firmer ground.

They began Monday with the simplest maneuver on their list of options: driving forward with all five operable wheels. The engineers said the wheels turned enough to cover tens of yards, if there had been no slippage but the test rover moved slightly forward and then sideways down slope.

NASA said weeks of further testing and analysis are expected before engineers identify the best moves to command Spirit to make.

The rover became stuck in April in an area scientists dubbed Troy. While awaiting extraction instructions, the rover is examining Troy's soil, NASA said.