Spirit rover's wheels stuck in soft Martian dirt

May 12, 2009
Wheel slippage during attempts to extricate NASA's Mars Rover Spirit from a patch of soft ground during the preceding two weeks had partially buried the wheels by the 1,899th Martian day, or sol, of the Spirit's mission on Mars (May 6, 2009). Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

(PhysOrg.com) -- The five wheels that still rotate on NASA's Mars Exploration Rover Spirit have been slipping severely in soft soil during recent attempts to drive, sinking the wheels about halfway into the ground.

The rover team of engineers and scientists has suspended driving Spirit temporarily while studying the ground around the rover and planning simulation tests of driving options with a test rover at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.

"Spirit is in a very difficult situation," JPL's John Callas, project manager for Spirit and its twin rover, Opportunity, said Monday. "We are proceeding methodically and cautiously. It may be weeks before we try moving Spirit again. Meanwhile, we are using Spirit's scientific instruments to learn more about the physical properties of the soil that is giving us trouble."

Both Spirit and Opportunity have operated more than five years longer than their originally planned missions of three months on Mars and have driven much farther than designed. The rover team has so far developed ways to cope with various symptoms of aging on both rovers.

Spirit has been driving counterclockwise from north to south around a low plateau called "Home Plate" for two months. The rover progressed 122 meters (400 feet) on that route before reaching its current position.

In the past week, the digging-in of Spirit's wheels has raised concerns that the rover's belly pan could now be low enough to contact rocks underneath the chassis, which would make getting out of the situation more difficult. The right-front wheel on Spirit stopped working three years ago. Driving with just five powered wheels while dragging or pushing an immobile wheel adds to the challenge of the situation.

Favorably, three times in the past month, wind has removed some of the dust accumulated on Spirit's solar panels. This increases the rover's capability for generating electricity.

"The improved power situation buys us time," Callas said. "We will use that time to plan the next steps carefully. We know that dust storms could return at any time, although the skies are currently clear."

Behavioral problems that Spirit exhibited in early April -- episodes of amnesia, computer resets and failure to wake for communications sessions -- have not recurred in the past three weeks, though investigations have yet to diagnose the root causes.

Provided by NASA

Explore further: SpaceX launches supplies to space station

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Spirit Wiggles Into Position

Oct 17, 2005

NASA's Mars Exploration Rover Spirit completed a difficult, rocky ascent en route to reaching a captivating rock outcrop nicknamed "Hillary" at the summit of "Husband Hill."

Mars Rover Team Sets Low-Power Plan for NASA's Spirit

Nov 17, 2008

(PhysOrg.com) -- After assessing data received from NASA's Mars Exploration Rover Spirit on Thursday, mission controllers laid out plans for the rover to conserve its modest energy during the next few weeks.

Recommended for you

Sun emits a mid-level solar flare

2 hours ago

The sun emitted a mid-level solar flare, peaking at 9:03 a.m. EDT on April 18, 2014, and NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory captured images of the event. Solar flares are powerful bursts of radiation. Harmful ...

Impact glass stores biodata for millions of years

4 hours ago

(Phys.org) —Bits of plant life encapsulated in molten glass by asteroid and comet impacts millions of years ago give geologists information about climate and life forms on the ancient Earth. Scientists ...

The importance of plumes

4 hours ago

The Hubble Space Telescope is famous for finding black holes. It can pick out thousands of galaxies in a patch of sky the size of a thumbprint. The most powerful space telescope ever built, the Hubble provided ...

Ceres and Vesta Converge in Virgo

7 hours ago

Don't let them pass you by. Right now and continuing through July, the biggest and brightest asteroids will be running on nearly parallel tracks in the constellation Virgo and so close together they'll easily ...

User comments : 0

More news stories

Impact glass stores biodata for millions of years

(Phys.org) —Bits of plant life encapsulated in molten glass by asteroid and comet impacts millions of years ago give geologists information about climate and life forms on the ancient Earth. Scientists ...

Suddenly health insurance is not for sale

(HealthDay)— Darlene Tucker, an independent insurance broker in Scotts Hill, Tenn., says health insurers in her area aren't selling policies year-round anymore.