NASA abandons Mars rover rescue efforts

After six years roaming across and working on Mars, NASA's Mars Exploration Rover Spirit has been deemed permanently stuck in dirt on the planet's surface.

Nonetheless, NASA officials hope it can still conduct experiments to help scientists better understand the planet.

With NASA's robotic rover trapped in one spot, NASA engineers are concerned that the machine won't survive the extremely frigid temperatures of the upcoming Martian winter. But NASA scientists said during a press conference today that they still hold out hope that Spirit can survive and conduct new scientific experiments when spring comes to the Red Planet.

"Right now, the rover is embedded," said Doug McCuistion, director of NASA's Mars Exploration Program . "We do not believe that it's extractable. The immobility of the rover is complete. We're just focusing on trying to survive the winter."

Spirit got into trouble last year while working its way south near the western edge of a plateau NASA has dubbed Home Plate. The rover's wheels broke through the crusty surface and got stuck in some soft, salty sand underneath. Since then, NASA engineers have worked tirelessly to find a way to extricate the rover, which now has two immobile tires on one side, from the sand.

Today was the first time that NASA officials admitted that there will be no moving the rover again.

However, the rover's twin, called Opportunity , continues to move and work on the Martian surface.

And now Spirit, if it can survive the winter, will operate as a stationary platform.

The first order of business, according to Ashley Stroupe, a rover driver with NASA, will be to try to angle the rover's solar array so that it's pointing more toward the sun.

Stroupe said they've been able to slightly edge the rover backward which has changed the angle of the arrays by one to two degrees. Drivers in Mission Control also are trying to rotate the rover in place to get the arrays in a better position.

Spirit needs to be able to use solar energy to heat itself enough to make it through the frigid winter.

John L. Callas, project manager for the Mars Exploration Rovers, noted today that NASA is already beginning to see a decrease in the rover's energy levels. To conserve as much energy as possible, Callas said they've instructed the robot to turn off all of its instruments except for its master clock.

"Every day the rover will check its batteries and if there's enough charge, it will wake itself up and try to communicate with Earth," said Callas. "The rover will be like a polar bear hibernating for possibly six months. We need to be prepared to go through an extended period of time where we will not hear from Rover. It just may have insufficient power to be awake every day."

If Spirit doesn't capture enough solar energy to wake up and run a few instruments, it may not generate enough heat to help it withstand the winter, said Callas. "It's like running your car to keep it warm," he added.

However, if Spirit does survive the winter, then NASA has set up a whole set of scientific experiments for the now stationary robot to work on.

Steven Squyres, principal investigator for the Mars Exploration Rovers, explained that he'd like to spend six months tracking Spirit's radio signals. Since the rover is now immobile, scientists should be able to use the radio signals to help them track the way Mars spins on its axis.

"Because of gravitation interaction with the sun, Mars' spin axis wobbles ever so slightly," said Squyres. "We should be able to characterize the nature of that wobble and that's important because the way that Mars wobbles tells us about its internal structure. We can determine if the core of Mars is liquid or molten. It's something we really didn't think about when we first put the rover on Mars. But now that things have changed, you think of new tricks."

He also noted that they're hoping to study the salty soil that the rover is stuck in.

Sharon Gaudin covers the Internet and Web 2.0, emerging technologies, and desktop and laptop chips for Computerworld . Follow Sharon on Twitter at @sgaudin , send e-mail to sgaudin@computerworld.com or subscribe to Sharon's RSS feed .

Join the newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.
Rocket to Success - Your 10 Tips for Smarter ERP System Selection

Tags NASAmars rover

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Sharon Gaudin

Computerworld (US)
Show Comments

Cool Tech

SanDisk MicroSDXC™ for Nintendo® Switch™

Learn more >

Breitling Superocean Heritage Chronographe 44

Learn more >

Toys for Boys

Family Friendly

Panasonic 4K UHD Blu-Ray Player and Full HD Recorder with Netflix - UBT1GL-K

Learn more >

Stocking Stuffer

Razer DeathAdder Expert Ergonomic Gaming Mouse

Learn more >

Christmas Gift Guide

Click for more ›

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Edwina Hargreaves

WD My Cloud Home

I would recommend this device for families and small businesses who want one safe place to store all their important digital content and a way to easily share it with friends, family, business partners, or customers.

Walid Mikhael

Brother QL-820NWB Professional Label Printer

It’s easy to set up, it’s compact and quiet when printing and to top if off, the print quality is excellent. This is hands down the best printer I’ve used for printing labels.

Ben Ramsden

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

Brainstorming, innovation, problem solving, and negotiation have all become much more productive and valuable if people can easily collaborate in real time with minimal friction.

Sarah Ieroianni

Brother QL-820NWB Professional Label Printer

The print quality also does not disappoint, it’s clear, bold, doesn’t smudge and the text is perfectly sized.

Ratchada Dunn

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

The Huddle Board’s built in program; Sharp Touch Viewing software allows us to easily manipulate and edit our documents (jpegs and PDFs) all at the same time on the dashboard.

George Khoury

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

The biggest perks for me would be that it comes with easy to use and comprehensive programs that make the collaboration process a whole lot more intuitive and organic

Featured Content

Product Launch Showcase

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?