No word from stuck NASA Mars rover Spirit

Jan 02, 2011 By ALICIA CHANG , AP Science Writer
Artist's concept of a NASA Mars Exploration Rover. Image credit: NASA/JPL/Cornell University

The odometer on the Mars rover Spirit has been stuck at 4.8 miles for more than 1 1/2 years and has been incommunicado since March.

This double dose of bad luck hangs over the scrappy spacecraft, which marks its seventh year on on Monday.

doesn't know if the Spirit is dead or alive, but it's diligently listening for any peep as the rover remains mired in a sand trap.

"There's a realistic possibility that Spirit may never wake up again," said Dave Lavery, Mars rovers program executive at NASA headquarters.

A pair of Mars orbiters has been making daily overhead passes listening for a signal from Spirit, which became stuck in April 2009 while driving backward. After several attempts to free it were unsuccessful, Spirit got new instructions to conduct science observations while mired in the sand.

It suddenly stopped talking with Earth last March and is presumed to be in to conserve power. During this deep sleep, communications and other activities are suspended so that energy can go to heating and battery recharging.

Spirit is designed to try to wake up when its battery gets enough charge. Scientists are disappointed with its silence, but are holding out hope it will spring back to life.

"I'm not ready to say goodbye yet," said mission chief scientist Steve Squyres of Cornell University. "That moment will come someday, but now is not the time."

With each passing day on Mars, the sun gets higher in the sky, increasing the amount of sunlight reaching Spirit's . The sun will be at its highest point in mid-March. After that, the chances of hearing from Spirit dwindle.

If Spirit doesn't radio back by March, it's "probably not going to," Lavery said.

Lavery said the mission will continue to listen after March, but will scale back the daily passes.

Originally designed to roam around opposite ends of Mars for three months, Spirit and its twin, Opportunity, have lived long past their warranty. Spirit landed on the on Jan. 3, 2004, followed by Opportunity three weeks later. Both have uncovered geologic evidence of ancient water on the planet.

Opportunity so far has logged 16.4 miles and shows no signs of stopping. It recently drove to a 300-foot-diameter crater where it will spend several months exploring before moving on to its eventual destination, Endeavour crater.

Meanwhile, scientists can only reminiscence about Spirit's past hijinks.

"If that adventure is truly over, it will be a shame, but it will also have been a rover's life well-lived," said astronomer Jim Bell of Arizona State University.

Explore further: Miranda: An icy moon deformed by tidal heating

More information: Mars rovers site: http://marsrovers.jpl.nasa.gov/home

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Mercury_01
4 / 5 (4) Jan 02, 2011
It wont be long now before the next rover mission. Id heard about it before, but just found out yesterday that it launches this coming November. This one is nuclear powered!
diego
4 / 5 (2) Jan 02, 2011
Despite the fact that these two rovers were a huge success, and obtained a treasure trove of scientific data, we must remember that you can only accomplice so much with robots. even with the fact that these robots are continuously becoming more sophisticated, a man mission would be much more useful to science. seriously, traveling just under 5 miles in I believe 7 years, and a good deal of that time being stuck in sand. A man mission wouldn't have to deal with those proplems. a manned mission would likely be able to easily travel 10 miles in a day, and study the rocks a lot more throughly than any robot ever could. Humans can also reach places a robot could not, such as caves,valles marineris, or olympus mons. You ever want to find life, or even ancient fossils of life, a manned mission is the only way to go.
Walfy
5 / 5 (8) Jan 02, 2011
...a man mission would be much more useful to science...

We still live in an age in which the science return for the money is much, much better with robots than manned missions. For the trillions of dollars to send 2 people to Mars and back, you could send fleets of robots to drive all over the planet. A manned mission would be limited to a small region. Also, when sending robots, we are sending extensions of ourselves. Our egos are wrapped up in the robots, their eyes are our eyes, their x-ray sensors our own, their "RAT" rock grinders our own, etc. Outer space is extremely hostile to human life, too expensive to provide care in space for the human organism. Keep our bodies home for now, send up our machines built with our own hands. The robots are extensions of ourselves and they can do great science. The next rover will be faster, and you won't have to worry about finding a place for it to take a dump every day in the deadly thin and freezing cold air of Mars.
Walfy
5 / 5 (2) Jan 02, 2011
The article failed to convey that the rover was EXPECTED to stop communicating last year when the Martian winter arrived. The article reads like, "first the rover got trapped, then suddenly stopped communicating!" The trap was unexpected, but the rover shutting off was totally expected.
Quantum_Conundrum
2.8 / 5 (6) Jan 02, 2011
such as caves,valles marineris, or olympus mons. You ever want to find life, or even ancient fossils of life, a manned mission is the only way to go.


If you are seriously looking for water or "life signs" it's certainly a reasonable prospect to go to the canyons. However, for a manned mission, this would mean landing on the flat plateau above, since landing at the bottom of a canyon would be too risky. Then your astronaughts must scale down a cliff with a 6 mile drop, while carrying several hundred pounds of gear and space suits,...after having been in near-zero gravity for 6 months for the space flight. This would be analogous to an Muscular Dystrophy patient climbing Everest with another person strapped to their backs.

More likely, when they got to Mars, they'd need to train themselves for several months to re-tone their muscles before they could even attempt such a thing as hiking or scaling a mountain or canyone wall.

Olympus Mons is 17 miles high...cont...
Quantum_Conundrum
2 / 5 (4) Jan 02, 2011
...scaling olympus mons would take weeks and isn't likely to tell you anything about water or life, even if there ever was life on Mars.

Then this brings us to the next problem: One manned mission wouldn't be enough to check more than one key location. Trying to cross from one part of the planet to another would be like hiking across the U.S. continent. Not gonna happen. But they would need to check at least one Pole, and then after that all the other interesting features are near the equator. So you need at least two or three landing details to complete even a basic geologic survey with ice cores and rock cores anyway.
philosothink
4 / 5 (5) Jan 02, 2011
We shouldn't waste $ on manned missions. Advanced, Avatar-like robotics are the way we need to be researching. The billions saved in not having to have life support will be a game changer where robotics are concerned. These wheeled ROV's are a toy of yesteryear when compared to what we could be making if we put the Shuttle budget into robotics research.
stndspec
4.7 / 5 (3) Jan 02, 2011
We need to be going to other planets via manned missions ASAP, despite the truly monumental cost difference it is clearly worth it. Ultimately humans won't be confined to Earth, (its required for basic survival) and the sooner we begin attempting these things the sooner we'll see the exponential returns on the investment leading to space becoming populated in more permanent ways. Time is the most valuable thing we have and we're pissing it away if we aren't focusing on a human presence beyond this planet. Certainly the vast majority of missions must be task-specific robots, but its vital we pursue both! Too many people these days are valuing the current $ beyond its long-term value to the species I fear.
Shootist
2.5 / 5 (6) Jan 02, 2011
We shouldn't waste $ on manned missions. Advanced, Avatar-like robotics are the way we need to be researching. The billions saved in not having to have life support will be a game changer where robotics are concerned. These wheeled ROV's are a toy of yesteryear when compared to what we could be making if we put the Shuttle budget into robotics research.


Thank He Who Shall Not Be Named, you're not Emperor.

diego
2.7 / 5 (3) Jan 02, 2011
Ok first off, a mission to mars would NOT cost trillions of dollars. with new technologies, such as the vasimir rocket engine, you can get to mars in 37 days, possibly quicker.And other technologies, such as a air tight vehicle, similar to what was used on the apollo missions, could allow the astronauts greater traveling distance. Mars is one of the most hospitable places in the solar system besides earth. Even though it's atmospher is extremely thin, and is almost entirely CO2, it is thick enouph to protect against micrometeorites and certain amount of radiation. With easily taken measures, the astronauts could use sand to protect themselves further. Furthermore, a manned mission should be taken with an international effort, such as was done with the ISS. As for the travessing down a vallis marrinearis, largely agreed to be oneof the most likely spots for microscopic lifeforms, 1/3 of earths gravity would certaintly help.
DamienS
4 / 5 (4) Jan 02, 2011
We shouldn't waste $ on manned missions. Advanced, Avatar-like robotics are the way we need to be researching.

Do you mean telepresence? If so, then I don't agree due to the communications lag (3 - 20 mins one way). The current trend is the right one where robots are becoming increasingly self sufficient and do the navigating themselves. Better AI and vision systems coupled with say, legged walkers (see BigDog by Boston Dynamics) and powered by nuclear energy is the way to go.
DamienS
4.5 / 5 (6) Jan 02, 2011
Ok first off, a mission to mars would NOT cost trillions of dollars

It probably would. Just going back to the Moon will cost over $100 billion and going to Mars is at least an order of magnitude more difficult. Not to mention radiation exposure in transit.
with new technologies, such as the vasimir rocket engine, you can get to mars in 37 days, possibly quicker

What missions have been flown with this tech? None. And to get it to manned rated status is even more complicated, coupled to the fact you'd still need chemical propulsion to get off the Earth. In short, ain't gonna happen anytime soon.
Mars is one of the most hospitable places in the solar system besides earth

Relatively, but you still need artificial structures, food, water, etc.
With easily taken measures, the astronauts could use sand to protect themselves further

So they would need to bring excavation machinery and construction materials too? It won't happen in our lifetimes, or the next gen's.
dan42day
2.5 / 5 (4) Jan 03, 2011
We probably could have made it to Mars by 1985 at a reasonable price if we had kept up the pace of Apollo and set that direction in the early 1970's. Doing it now isn't really feasible for this country alone.

A half dozen Saturn-V launches would have probably done the trick if we had built them when we had the manufacturing system set up.
Mayday
2.2 / 5 (5) Jan 03, 2011
While we argue round-and-round Mars will belong to China. Someday we'll go up there and get to rent a very expensive parking space from them. If we're nice.
DamienS
5 / 5 (5) Jan 03, 2011
While we argue round-and-round Mars will belong to China. Someday we'll go up there and get to rent a very expensive parking space from them. If we're nice.

Actually, that would be the best thing that could happen, as happened some 50-odd years ago with the Ruskis. It would be one helluva incentive to reorganize one's priorities in space.
diego
2 / 5 (3) Jan 03, 2011
Replying to DamienS's quote,Respectfully, I don't believe you understood what I was trying to convey. The vasimir rocket engine is a fairly well known piece of technology, and NASA is planning on installing a small one on the ISS in order to keep it in orbit. With 60+ year old technology (chemical rockets) we will NEVER EVER be able to have a sustained presence in space. It's just not gonna happen. Only with technologies such as Ion Rockets, scram jets, and space elevators will humanity ever be able to have the ability to have colonies on moon, mars, etc, mine the asteroids, and eventually, super long term, other planets. Though these technologies sound far off and out of science fiction, all three technologies are in development. In fact,ION engines have been used for years, such as on satellites, and the voyager probles. A Vasimir engine capable of a mars flight is expected in about 2015, if I remember right.
diego
2 / 5 (3) Jan 03, 2011
...and when soldiers make sandbags for protection, do they need excavation equipment. no, you just sand in sand bags and pile it on top of the habitat. With new spacesuits, also in development, you would be able to do such work with ease, especially since everything weighs about 1/3 of what it does here on earth. As you may or may not know, you can get oxygen from the atmosphere of mars via the CO2, water from ice on the planet, food simply by a blow up green house similar to what Bigelow Aerospace is developing. By the 2020 era, Vasimir Rockets, improved spacesuits, Inflatable space habitats, etc are all expected to be fully functional.DamienS, what you may not of realized is that the apollo missions were WAY ahead of their time, and only succeeded as a result of cold war fears. Today, we finally have, or are extremely close to having, the technologies to try exploring space, the right way, once again.
hexmat1233
1 / 5 (3) Jan 03, 2011
Notice how thay say that it is a sleep and coserving power this means in some way the rover is realy alive and thinks for it self obiously it dosedt funtion by remote control and humans wil get to outer space and colonize other worlds
hexmat1233
not rated yet Jan 03, 2011
We shouldn't waste $ on manned missions. Advanced, Avatar-like robotics are the way we need to be researching. The billions saved in not having to have life support will be a game changer where robotics are concerned. These wheeled ROV's are a toy of yesteryear when compared to what we could be making if we put the Shuttle budget into robotics research.

Thank u at least this guy has some sence rating of 5 i gave him
KEDR566R
not rated yet Jan 03, 2011
One thing is sure we are not going to remain on this planet forever.
As astronaut "Buzz" Aldrin once
in an interviev put it:sooner or later something is gonna hit this planet and we've got
no alternative plan...
Walfy
5 / 5 (3) Jan 03, 2011
There probably would've been a budget after the Apollo mission enough to get to Mars, but the military industrial complex, with their highly-developed use of fear mongering, got all the cash funneled in their direction. 40 years later we've seen very little progress in space exploration technologies, but lots of good progress in destruction technologies. Until humanity grows up more, there will be no great human space explorations.
DamienS
5 / 5 (3) Jan 03, 2011
Replying to DamienS's quote, Respectfully, I don't believe you understood what I was trying to convey.

No, diego, I fully understand what you are saying. You seem like an optimist, which is great, but the real world doesn't work the way one would wish. Who would have thought we'd still be stuck in LEO 40 years after going to the Moon? And even that wouldn't have happened if not for the cold war and political incentive.

In lieu of such single minded, open checkbook funding, things tend to happen at a much more leisurely pace. The things you have talked about aren't impossible, it's just that the motivation and funding to do them (quickly) simply isn't there now nor will it be there in the foreseeable future.

The only thing which might kick-start these developments is either serious competition from the Chinese or, more likely, private enterprise (Virgin Galactic, say) taking baby (but profitable) steps, thus encouraging competition from the private sector.
diego
2 / 5 (1) Jan 03, 2011
Though Obama's cancellation of the space shuttles and concellation programs are largely unpopular among space enthusiasts, it is by far the more logical and productive choice. Though the shuttle was innovative, it was way ahead of it's time, along with the concellation program. Many of the space shuttle launches could have been cheaper with disposable rockets. With using these funds to fund technologies that will a much more affordable space endeavors, we will get actual science done even sooner than the concellation program. And Walfy, I largely agree. For example, a few years back a 2 billion $ b-2 bomber crashed from a computer glitch, with barely any media response. But when something goes wrong with a similar priced shuttle, the media goes wild and nasa is heavily critized etc. and they have to worry about loss of funding. Did any of this happen with the B-2 program? Course not.
DamienS
5 / 5 (2) Jan 03, 2011
Though Obama's cancellation of the space shuttles and concellation programs are largely unpopular among space enthusiasts, it is by far the more logical and productive choice.

Agreed, had to be done.
Though the shuttle was innovative, it was way ahead of it's time

In fact, the final shuttle design was a deeply flawed compromise compared to the original designs. The final version was made to be less costly to build, less technically ambitious and not fully reusable. Its chief coolness factor was the fact that it looked like a space plane rather then a traditional capsule and that it had a novel (but problematic) new heat shield system. It was a failure when measured against its stated goals to drastically cut the cost of access to space and quick (weekly) turnaround times. It was successful as an iconic symbol and for delivering a great observatory into LEO.
mjesfahani
1 / 5 (3) Jan 05, 2011
Why NASA instead of looking for other lives does not invest on researches for Multiple Sclerosis (MS)? they spend billions on Spirit or other rovers. That's very good, but researches on our illnesses is better!
trekgeek1
5 / 5 (1) Jan 09, 2011
Why NASA instead of looking for other lives does not invest on researches for Multiple Sclerosis (MS)? they spend billions on Spirit or other rovers. That's very good, but researches on our illnesses is better!


Until you've cured MS and find an asteroid flying toward Earth and can't do anything to circumvent total annihilation of not only Humans, but every living plant and animal. Space missions of all varieties prepare us technologically for the future. Just launching satellites won't prepare us for the myriad of challenges we may encounter.
bluehigh
2 / 5 (4) Jan 09, 2011
Spirit just got tired with finding the same old stuff and just gave up totally bored.