Mars and Earth Activities Aim to Get Spirit Rolling Again

May 19, 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) -- NASA's rover project team is using the Spirit rover and other spacecraft at Mars to begin developing the best maneuvers for extracting Spirit from the soft Martian ground where it has become embedded.

A diagnostic test on May 16 provided favorable indications about Spirit's left middle wheel. The possibility of the wheel being jammed was one factor in the rover team's May 7 decision to temporarily suspend driving Spirit after that wheel stalled and other wheels had dug themselves about hub-deep into the soil. The test over the weekend showed in the left middle wheel is within the expected range for a motor that has not failed.

"This is not a full exoneration of the wheel, but it is encouraging," said John Callas of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., project manager for Spirit and its twin rover, Opportunity. "We're taking incremental steps. Next, we'll command that wheel to rotate a degree or two. The other wheels will be kept motionless, so this is not expected to alter the position of the vehicle."

Another reason to suspend driving is the possibility that the wheels' digging into the soil may have lowered the body of the rover enough for its belly pan to be in contact with a small mound of rocks. The rover team is using Opportunity to test a procedure for possible use by Spirit: looking underneath the rover with the microscopic imager camera that is mounted on the end of the rover's arm. This might be a way to see whether Spirit is, in fact, touching the rocks beneath it.

NASA's is also aiding in the Spirit recovery plan. As a result of winds blowing dust off Spirit's solar panel four times in the past month, Spirit now has enough power to add an extra communication session each day. The Odyssey project has made the orbiter available for receiving extra transmissions from Spirit. The transmissions include imaging data from Spirit's examinations of soil properties and ground geometry.

Rover team members are using that data and other information to construct a simulation of Spirit's situation in a rover testing facility at JPL. The team is testing different materials to use as soil that will mimic the physical properties of the Martian soil where Spirit is embedded. Later, the team will test maneuvers to get the rover free. Weeks of testing are anticipated before any attempt to move Spirit.

Provided by JPL/NASA (news : web)

Explore further: SpaceX making Easter delivery of station supplies (Update 2)

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Spirit rover's wheels stuck in soft Martian dirt

May 12, 2009

(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 ...

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 Diagnosing Unexpected Behavior

Jan 28, 2009

(PhysOrg.com) -- The team operating NASA's Mars Exploration Rover Spirit plans diagnostic tests this week after Spirit did not report some of its weekend activities, including a request to determine its orientation ...

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.

NASA Investigates Problems With Spirit

Oct 06, 2004

Engineers on NASA's Mars Exploration Rover team are investigating possible causes and remedies for a problem affecting the steering on Spirit. The relay for steering actuators on Spirit's right-front and lef ...

Recommended for you

NASA's space station Robonaut finally getting legs

8 hours ago

Robonaut, the first out-of-this-world humanoid, is finally getting its space legs. For three years, Robonaut has had to manage from the waist up. This new pair of legs means the experimental robot—now stuck ...

Sun emits a mid-level solar flare

Apr 18, 2014

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

Apr 18, 2014

(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

Apr 18, 2014

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 ...

User comments : 2

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

deatopmg
not rated yet May 19, 2009
Any pictures of the wheels? It couldn't be mud, could it?
docknowledge
not rated yet May 19, 2009
That would be the perfect ending for Spirit, wouldn't it?

I'm surprised (maybe I shouldn't be) that at this late date in its travels the team got caught by soft soil. If anything, it's a reminder that we've only scratched the surface (heh) of Mars.

More news stories

NASA's space station Robonaut finally getting legs

Robonaut, the first out-of-this-world humanoid, is finally getting its space legs. For three years, Robonaut has had to manage from the waist up. This new pair of legs means the experimental robot—now stuck ...

Cosmologists weigh cosmic filaments and voids

(Phys.org) —Cosmologists have established that much of the stuff of the universe is made of dark matter, a mysterious, invisible substance that can't be directly detected but which exerts a gravitational ...

Ex-Apple chief plans mobile phone for India

Former Apple chief executive John Sculley, whose marketing skills helped bring the personal computer to desktops worldwide, says he plans to launch a mobile phone in India to exploit its still largely untapped ...

Filipino tests negative for Middle East virus

A Filipino nurse who tested positive for the Middle East virus has been found free of infection in a subsequent examination after he returned home, Philippine health officials said Saturday.

Egypt archaeologists find ancient writer's tomb

Egypt's minister of antiquities says a team of Spanish archaeologists has discovered two tombs in the southern part of the country, one of them belonging to a writer and containing a trove of artifacts including reed pens ...

Airbnb rental site raises $450 mn

Online lodging listings website Airbnb inked a $450 million funding deal with investors led by TPG, a source close to the matter said Friday.