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PostPosted: 22 Dec 2009, 10:51 
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Spirit Surprise: Long-Defunct Mars Rover Wheel Spins

By Andrea Thompson

SPACE.com - The long-crippled right-front wheel of NASA's beleaguered Mars rover Spirit surprised mission managers by spinning for the first time in three years last week.

NASA engineers decided to try switching on the bum wheel to see if they could gain more traction to try to extricate the rover from the sand trap it has been stuck in since May 6.

Engineers were "totally" surprised that the wheel actually showed signs of activity last week after being switched on for the first time since 2006, when its failure due to an open circuit was thought to be permanent, said Ray Arvidson of Washington University in St. Louis. Arvidson is deputy principal investigator for the science payloads on Spirit and its twin rover, Opportunity. That wheel failure forced engineers to drive the spacecraft backwards with the crippled wheel in tow.

"We've been dragging it around Mars for three years," Arvidson said.

The attempt to switch on and move the right-front wheel was expected to be a long-shot, "but at this point we need every bit of traction we can get," Arvidson said.

The right-front wheel isn't working perfectly – while it revolved with apparently normal movement during the first three of four driving segments on Dec. 16, it stopped early in the fourth segment. Whether or not it will work again is unclear, according to the latest NASA progress report on the rover.

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PostPosted: 02 Jan 2010, 21:11 
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NASA's Mars Rover Spirit Has Uncertain Future as Sixth Anniversary Nears

ScienceDaily (Jan. 2, 2010) — NASA's Mars rover Spirit will mark six years of unprecedented science exploration and inspiration for the American public on Sunday. However, the upcoming Martian winter could end the roving career of the beloved, scrappy robot.

Spirit successfully landed on the Red Planet at 8:35 p.m. PST on Jan. 3, 2004, and its twin Opportunity arrived at 9:05 p.m. Jan. 24, 2004. The rovers began missions intended to last for three months but which have lasted six Earth years, or 3.2 Mars years. During this time, Spirit has found evidence of a steamy and violent environment on ancient Mars that was quite different from the wet and acidic past documented by Opportunity, which has been operating successfully as it explores halfway around the planet.

A sand trap and balky wheels are challenges to Spirit's mobility that could prevent NASA's rover team from using a key survival strategy for the rover. The team may not be able to position the robot's solar panels to tilt toward the sun to collect power for heat to survive the severe Martian winter.

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PostPosted: 03 Jan 2010, 21:32 
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Long-Lived Mars Rovers Begin Year 7 on Red Planet

By Andrea Thompson

SPACE.com - Six years ago, NASA's Mars rovers Spirit and Opportunity touched down on the red planet with a team of scientists eagerly looking ahead to their short, three-month missions.

As they embark on their seventh year on Mars, the longevity of the plucky rovers continues to amaze their minders back on Earth, even with Spirit potentially permanently stuck wheel-deep in Martian sand.

Spirit set down at Gusev Crater on Jan. 3, 2004, at 11:35 p.m. EST, with its younger sister rover Opportunity landing on the other side of the planet — on the plains of Meridiani Planum — more than two weeks later at midnight EST on Jan. 25. While Sunday marks the mission's sixth anniversary on Earth, it has only been 3.2 Martian years since one year on Mars is about 687 Earth days long.

Originally slated to trundle across the Martian surface for only 90 days each, Spirit and Opportunity blew past those deadlines and have continued their missions for far longer than mission engineers ever thought possible. Opportunity even passed the 11-mile mark on its odometer earlier this year and beamed home more than 132,000 images of Mars.

"They're all so far out of warranty," said Ray Arvidson of Washington University in St. Louis. Arvidson is deputy principal investigator for the science payloads on Spirit and its twin.

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