May 25, 2011

NASA To Say Goodbye To Mars Rover

NASA said on Tuesday that it is calling it quits on trying to revive its Mars rover Spirit.

The rover has been incommunicado for over a year despite daily calls by NASA.  The reason for Spirit's silence may never be known, but the space agency said it is likely the Martian winter damaged its electronics, preventing the six-wheel rover from waking up.

NASA tried every trick to listen for Spirit, but project manager John Callas of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory said the last commands will be sent up Wednesday.

"Spirit went into a deep sleep," Callas, who said the plucky rover will be remembered for demystifying Mars for the masses, said in a statement.

Spirit and its twin Opportunity parachuted to opposite ends of the Martian southern hemisphere in January 2004 for what was supposed to be a three-month mission.

The rovers became an instant hit with the public, who followed the rovers' every move as they rolled across the Martian plains and stopped to drill into rocks.

The rovers' greatest achievement was uncovering geological evidence that Mars use to be more tropical billions of years ago.

Spirit went into critical condition soon after landing, sending nonsense data back to Earth.  The rover landed into a Connecticut-sized crater named Gusev that contained hints of past water.

Spirit had no choice but to trek toward the hills to make discoveries.  In 2005, the rover scaled a mountain the height of the Statute of Liberty.  It also was the first to record Martian dust devils.

In 2006, one of its front wheels stopped spinning, forcing the rover to drive backward and drag its lame wheel. 

In April 2009, Spirit broke through crusty ground while driving backward and became bogged in a sand pit.  One of the back wheels stopped working while trying to get the rover unstuck. 

NASA declared an end to Spirit's mobile career in January 2010, six years after landing, and it became a stationary spacecraft.

A formal farewell is planned at NASA headquarters after the Memorial Day holiday and will be televised on NASA TV.

Spirit trekked 4.8 miles since landing and is the second Mars spacecraft in three years to stop working.


Image Caption: An artist's concept portrays a NASA Mars Exploration Rover on the surface of Mars. Two rovers have been built for 2003 launches and January 2004 arrival at two sites on Mars. Each rover has the mobility and toolkit to function as a robotic geologist. Credit: NASA/JPL/Cornell University


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